Hontiveros backs VFA review; calls for stronger alliances with other WPH claimants

Published February 16, 2021, 11:38 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Aside from the United States, Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said the government should seek better alliances with other countries, especially those that have maritime claims in the contested West Philippine Sea.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)
Sen. Risa Hontiveros
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Hontiveros said that while she supports proposals calling for a review of the terms and conditions stipulated under the United States and Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the government would do well strengthening its bilateral ties with other claimant countries in the whole South China Sea and neighboring countries in the ASEAN region.

Considering the mounting tension in the West Philippine Sea brought about by the controversial Chinese Coast Guard Law, the senator said this is necessary.

“I think the Philippines should more proactively seek better and wider alliances with like-minded countries in the region,” Hontiveros said in an interview over ANC Headstart.

“So that we can, you know, unselfconsciously be nervous that China’s eyes are on us. That’s okay, but the main eyes of us, Filipinos, should be on our own national interest and seek alliances with like-minded countries armed with full confidence that we, as a free country, also has rights, and we can stake our claim in these seas,” she stressed.

In the event the state succeeds in pursuing a renegotiation of the US-PH VFA, the senator said she hopes government negotiators are able to make sure that the country’s laws will be upheld, especially in cases where a US soldier commits a crime under Philippine soil.

“While they are here in our country, our laws should operate. It’s the same thing, I say, about China in the West Philippine Sea, on land as well,” Hontiveros said.

“Any foreign military personnel, whether from US or other foreign country must obey or if he or she violates (our laws) must be made accountable to Philippine law and whatever crime they committed against Filipinos should be given justice),” she stressed.

“And I hope that the US will, as other countries have done, uphold our victory in the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal and contribute to a balance of power in the region,” the lawmaker added.

Hontiveros said she is glad that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is already speaking up on the issue even though his opinion on the matter is different from that of President Duterte.

“I support a review of its terms and conditions to, if necessary, update it in the interest of pursuing our own independent and interdependent foreign policy,” she said.

“I look forward to a clear and consistent and pro-Filipino foreign and national defense policy whether on this issue on the US-PH VFA, on the whole mutual defense treaty or other countries like China and other claimant countries in the West Philippine Sea,” she further said.