MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – New military chief Lieutenant General Felimon Santos Jr on Wednesday, February 12, is optimistic that the Philippines can do without its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, saying the country was working on strenghtening its defense cooperation with other countries.
Santos gave the assurance in a media interview after the Commission on Appointments confirmed his ad interim as the Duterte administration's 7th Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief.
The Philippines officially sent a notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy on Tuesday, February 11, kickstarting the expiration of the agreement that will take effect after 180 days.
Santos asserted that benefits to be lost with the VFA termination would only be minimal, and that they were working on further strengthening defense cooperation with other countries such as South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and China.
"It’s not actually naman kawalan (a loss) because, as of now, you can see we already have some equipment. We have planes. We have ships," Santos said in a media interview.
"We have lived before when the US military bases left.... We could move on without VFA," he added.
At the confirmation hearing, Senator Francis Tolentino asked Santos whether the Philippine military would be able to perform its rescue functions without its American counterparts, given the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
"It will affect our rescue operations definitely," said Santos.
"We have already presented to the Secretary of National Defense on our way ahead of filling up the gap especially with our modernization program and other stop gap measures that we could do in case the Big One occurs," he added, referring to the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that may strike along the West Valley Fault.
Revolving door policy at AFP
As expected, there was no opposition to the confirmation of Santos – a veteran intelligence officer and former chief of the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) based in Davao City– during the CA plenary.
Santos is President Rodrigo Duterte's Like his predecessors under the current administration, he was assigned in Mindanao and would hold the top military post in less than a year. He is set to retire on August 3, 2020.
Senator Panfilo Lacson questioned the brief service of Duterte's AFP chiefs during the hearing.
"Now, I’m not questioning the authority and prerogative of the commander-in-chief or the President, but as a matter of policy, my question would be is the revolving door policy good or bad for the Armed Forces?" Lacson asked.
Santos said that there were disadvantages to Duterte's policy of appointing retiring generals as military chiefs, but noted that there was a "system" already in place. Santos is the 5th AFP chief under Duterte who had led Eastmincom.
"Of course, we cannot continue with the programs. But in our position, we have already established the programs set including the campaign plans and the system is already established in the Armed Forces. Whoever sits here, the system goes well," Santos said.
"However, the disadvantage, Sir, [is] the continuity of following up those programs," he added.
Santos defended the seeming preference for military generals who served Mindanao, the President's bailiwick. "Most of the officers who have established their credibility and credentials as good commanders have experience in Mindanao," he said.
Lacson then asked if Santos already had someone in mind to recommend as AFP chief when he retires – someone who had not been assigned in Mindanao – but Santos said his 3 recommendees were all previously assigned in MIndanao.
A member of the Philippine Military Academy "Sinagtala" Class of 1986, Santos is also a Scout Ranger and a Field Artillery officer. He has a Master’s degree in management.
Santos started his career as an officer of the 39th Infantry Battalion in Mindanao. The new AFP chief had also served as 63rd Infrantry Battalion commander in Eastern Visayas, where the communist insurgency remained a problem.
Apart from Santos, Commodore Luzviminda Camacho also breezed through the CA plenary which confirmed her promotion to the rank of Commodore – the first Filipino woman to be promoted to that rank. – Rappler.com