By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA — It is not surprising for United States (US) Defense Secretary Mark Esper to claim that Manila’s looming termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington DC would be a “move in the wrong direction,” Malacañang said on Wednesday.
Disputing Esper’s remark, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said dissolving the two nations’ bilateral pact, which covers the conduct of US troops’ visit to the Philippines, is a “move in the right direction.”
Panelo also noted that the revocation of the VFA should have been done “a long time ago” since the military deal is only advantageous to the US.
“We expect no less for such a reaction from the US government following its receipt of the notice of termination of the VFA. Such commentary is expected, given that the VFA favors the US and its abrogation affects its global strategic defensive positioning,” he said in a statement.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday ordered Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send a formal notification to the US regarding the Philippines’ decision to revoke the VFA, which was signed in February 1998.
On Tuesday, Locsin announced that the formal termination notice has already been received by the US government.
The effectivity of the VFA will end 180 days from the day the US formally received the formal notice from the Philippines.
In an interview on Tuesday, Esper said it was “unfortunate” that the Philippines has to scrap the VFA.
Duterte’s move to rescind the agreement came following the cancellation of the US visa of his staunch ally, former police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa.
No longer a ‘parasite’
Panelo said the termination of the VFA would stop the Philippines from being a “parasite” to the US, especially when it comes to “protecting our independence and sovereignty.”
He reiterated that abrogating the military deal with the US was intended to pursue Duterte’s independent foreign policy.
“We must stand on our own,” Panelo said. “It is about time that we strengthen our defense capabilities. Reliance on another country for our own defenses against the enemies of the state will ultimately weaken and stagnate our defense mechanisms.”
He also said the Philippines’ relations with other countries are “anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people.”
Quoting Duterte, Panelo said, “We are friends to all, enemies to none.”
“Should any country, however, threaten our territorial integrity and assault our sovereignty, we will rise by our own resources and valiantly defend our motherland the way our forefathers did during their time,” he said.
In a Palace press briefing on Tuesday, Panelo said the Philippines hopes for “warmer” ties with the US, as Washington DC is expected to give “preferential attention” to Manila following the revocation of the VFA. (PNA)