By Mario Casayuran
The Commission on Appointments (CA) confirmed on Wednesday the appointment of Felimon T. Santos Jr. as a four-star general and as chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Santos, the seventh AFP chief of staff under the Duterte administration, was confirmed during the plenary session of the bicameral body presided by Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III, concurrent CA chairman.
Sen. Joel Villanueva moved for Santos’ confirmation in a public hearing to determine his fitness and competence to head the country’s armed service.
The public hearing was conducted by Rep. Luis A. Ferrer IV, chairman of the CA national defense committee.
Also confirmed was Luzviminda Almazan Camacho, who becomes the first woman commodore in the Philippine Navy.
VFA pros and cons
Queried by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on the decision of President Duterte to abrogate the 21-year-old RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Santos told the CA committee that the AFP gave the pros and cons of the issue of abrogating the VFA to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana had told the Senate foreign relations committee that the country’s military establishment has received $1.2 billion worth of aid and other benefits from the U.S. since 1998 because of the VFA.
Santos told the CA committee that the country received $127 million in various forms from the U.S. through the VFA in 2018 and $91 million last year.
Since the abrogation of the VFA will become final in 180 days, Senator Francis Tolentino asked Santos if it is possible that the U.S. could be persuaded to leave behind military and equipment for calamities already pre-positioned in the country because these have budgetary implications. Santos replied: ‘’I will do that.’’
Joint exercises, other SOFAs
Santos said that for 2020, the Philippines and the U.S. have 318 activities scheduled and this includes 10 major exercises.
But the regular “Balikatan” joint military exercise will be still covered by the VFA which automatically terminates after 180 days from the day the formal abrogation notice was transmitted.
“Others will not be terminated anymore because they will be beyond the 180 days. For the training actually, we are not the only one gaining from the training. It is also the U.S. soldiers who are gaining skills from us considering that we are one of the most experienced foot soldiers with our experience in Marawi, in counter-insurgency, and other internal problems,” he said.
As the VFA moves towards its official termination, Santos said that to fill the gap, “we will increase bilateral exercises, agreement with other exercises, not only the U.S., because as of now, the only SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) we have is [with] Australia.”
“So we will push for the approval of the SOFA of other countries, just like South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and other ally countries,” he added.