MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has been benefiting from the Visiting Forces Agreement which provided a strategic boost to the development of the country's military forces, the country's former ambassador to the United States said.
This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte last Thursday, January 23, ordered the abolition of the defense pact with the US unless they "corrected" the visa cancellation of Sen. Bato dela Rosa, who said he believed it was connected to his role in the administration's campaign against illegal narcotics and the US provision barring those implicated in the detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.
"I'm not saying that they should not review and possibly even renegotiate the VFA. That's fine. But to abrogate it for the flimsy reason that because the visa of Dela Rosa was canceled by the US does not seem to be a very reasonably step to take as far as I'm concerned," former Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. said in an interview on ANC's "Early Edition" on Monday, January 27.
"The VFA provides the flesh of Philippines-US relations. No VFA, no military exercises, no counterterrorism presence."
Malacañang at a media briefing that same day asserted that the decision was a "studied response" and was not made impulsively.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo had earlier said that the cancellation of Dela Rosa's visa was the "last straw that broke the camel's back" as the decision came as a result of a "series of disrespectful acts" towards the Philippines by American figures.
Along with the aforementioned provision, a separate US Senate Resolution condemned the administration's war on drugs, which international rights groups say have yielded over 27,000 deaths, contrary to the government's claim of just some 5,500.
But Cuisia argued that the agreement served to "enhance the capability of the Armed Forces." He also pointed out that the United States' presence in the country is "very crucial in providing the intelligence that led to the tracking" of those behind the Marawi siege.
"We have been getting assistance in terms of training for our military [and] they have been assisting us in terms of our counterterrorism efforts," he said.
"That would not be possible without the VFA."
The former ambassador also cited a book entitled, "Forging Partnerships: Philippine Defense Cooperation under Constitutional and International Laws" authored by Filipino diplomats Hon. J. Eduardo Malaya and Ms. Ma. Antonina M. Mendoza-Oblena saying that VFA was crucial in the modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces.
"[W]e still need US assistance in terms of our fight against terrorism because we don't have the capability to do it on our own," he said.
"[W]e also need the training of our military forces, our own military officials have said that they appreciate the training of the US military to our socials. As far as our allies are concerned, the fact that they know that the PH has this agreement with the US gives them assurance because they are a stabilizing factor in the region."
The diplomat said that a better approach would have been to call for a review of the agreement, which he said Washington would likely be open to.
"They should identify what those provisions they want clarified or reviewed. I'm sure the US government will not be unwilling to renegotiate those provisions," he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the United States and the Philippines continue to share "perfect" ties despite the passage of a Washington provision that bans anyone implicated in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima from entering American soil.
He later made a verbal turnaround and asserted that the provision did not exist, joining the likes of pro-Duterte blogger RJ Nieto in saying the entry ban was "fake news" and claiming there is no such provision signed by US President Donald Trump.
The 2020 US budget, though, is a public document that anyone can access and read.
The Palace previously slammed the provision as well, saying it undermined the sovereignty of the Philippines.
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