MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte refuted criticism that his repeal of a key military pact with the United States was a “knee-jerk reaction” to apparent sanctions levied upon his political allies.
Speaking at an event of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in Malacañang on Wednesday evening, February 26, Duterte downplayed the importance of the Philippines’ military alliance with the US.
“As the Republic of the Philippines, do you need a powerful country – the most powerful country at that, the United States – do we need America to survive as a nation? Do we need...the might and the power of the military of the United States to fight our rebellion here and the terrorists down south and control drugs?” Duterte asked.
The President again bristled at the US applying sanctions on Philippine officials and personalities who operated and abetted his grisly war on drugs. On January 23, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa said the US revoked his visa. The following day, Duterte threatened to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) if the US did not restore Dela Rosa’s visa within a month.
With no word from the US, Duterte officially ordered an end to the VFA on February 11 – despite calls from experts, lawmakers, and even members of his own Cabinet to desist and first review the agreement, and what would be the consequences of repealing it.
'Awake until 6 o'clock'
Critics said that in trashing the VFA, Duterte compromised a key component of national security over an ally’s visa troubles.
“Magsabi sila na (They say it was a) knee-jerk reaction. I am the most deliberate. That’s why I’m awake until 6 o’clock just thinking of what I have to do. Hindi mo puwede laruan ang (You cannot toy with the) Republic of the Philippines with a knee-jerk reaction,” Duterte said on Wednesday.
The VFA provides legal cover for the presence of US military troops in the Philippines, enabling some 300 yearly joint exercises and trainings, as well as cooperation in counterterrorism and disaster response.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said the VFA “gives flesh” to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US, which binds the two countries to come to the other’s aid in case of an armed attack by a foreign aggressor.
The alliance and the US’ military presence, sanctioned by the VFA, provides a deterrence against China’s expansionist claims in the West Philippine Sea, said Locsin, along with some lawmakers and analysts.
Duterte, however, thinks the Philippines can do without foreign alliances in fighting internal enemies and fending off would-be foreign intruders.
“Kasi ‘pag hindi natin kaya (Because if we cannot), we have no business being a republic. You might as well choose: we can be a territory of the Americans or we can be a province of China,” the President said.
After February 11, the VFA will remain in effect for 180 days before it lapses. Filipino and American diplomats said the two countries may eventually figure out a different setup to continue their military alliance. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.