By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government is open to forging military pacts with countries like the United Kingdom based on mutual benefits following the decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Malacañang said Tuesday.
But for now, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Duterte prefers the country to depend on its resources in fortifying its national defense and security.
The government earlier officially informed the United States about its termination of the VFA, which governs the conduct of American personnel visiting the Philippines. The decision came after President Duterte strongly denounced the United States’ alleged disrespect of the country’s sovereignty.
“Basta palaging pabor sa atin, basta kung (As long as it benefits us, as long as there is) mutual benefit to both countries, we are open,” Panelo said in a press conference at the Palace when asked if Manila is interested in forging VFAs with other nations.
“But the President said it’s about time we rely on ourselves. We will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country,” he added.
Citing information from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Panelo said the United Kingdom is among the countries interested in forging a defense agreement with the Philippines. He asserted that any future military agreements should be “based on fairness, mutual benefits to both agreeing nations.”
“Parang narinig ko kay Secretary Delfin Lorenzana na may mga countries na nag-o-offer and one of them is UK (I heard from Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that there are other countries that offered and one of them is UK),” Panelo said.
“But as the President said, it’s about time we rely on our own resources. We have to strengthen our own capability as a country relative to the defense of our land. Iyon ang pinaka-ano ni Presidente, mahirap iyong we keep on relying, lalo tayong humihina (The President said it’s hard to keep on relying on others, we are just getting weaker).”
The President earlier gave the green light to authorities to send the formal notice of termination of the VFA to the U.S. government. The notice, signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., was reportedly received by the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Last Monday, the President revealed that U.S. President Trump was trying to “save” the VFA but he had rejected the attempt. Duterte also hit back anew at the U.S. for allegedly meddling in the country’s affairs, including the demand to release opposition senator Leila de Lima.
“Napaka-bastos ng Amerikano, talagang sobrang bastos (America is so rude),” he said at an assembly of local government executives in Pasay City Monday night.
“Imagine demanding the release of De Lima and their threat that we will not receive the aid at may kolatilya (there’s are conditions) that all persons who’ve had a hand in the imprisonment of De Lima will not be allowed to go to the United States,” Duterte added.
Panelo said they consider the U.S. senators’ demand to release De Lima as well as the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s U.S. visa as part of Washington’s “voice.”
“Even then, still that’s the voice of U.S. government speaking to us through an equal branch of the three branches of government in the U.S.,” he said. “Cancelling [the] U.S. visa of Senator Bato is an executive function, not the Senate of the U.S., immigration iyon eh, executive iyon.”
He noted that the President still has friendly ties with Trump. “The friendship is more on the personal basis, not on the relations between the two countries.”
On the planned Senate review of the VFA, Panelo maintained that the Palace is interested to know the findings of the senators.
“Mabuti nga iyong nire-review nila para (A review will be good so) we will know from their point of view if indeed we have been disadvantaged in entering into this agreement, so that future agreements will be based on fairness, mutual benefits to both agreeing nations,” he said.
READ MORE: Locsin signs VFA termination letter