Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will not entertain any initiatives of US President Donald Trump to save a two-decade-old military agreement between the two countries, and favours the termination of all defence deals with the United States, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, his spokesman has declared.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters in Manila on Thursday that “reading the body language” of Duterte, it is “logical” what he wants to do next.
“To be consistent with his stand, then all treaties must go,” Panelo said.
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“If he says that we have to stand on our own and not rely [on others] that means we’ll have to strengthen our own resources. We don’t need other countries,” Panelo explained in a mix of Filipino and English.
On Tuesday, Duterte had formally announced the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.
The agreement provides a framework for the temporary entry of US troops to the Philippines for joint-training exercises with Filipino forces. The termination will take effect 180 days after the Philippines delivers the notice to the US.
Aside from the VFA, the Philippines has a long-standing Mutual Defense Treaty with the US signed in 1951. That agreement requires the Philippines and the US to extend military support to each other in case either parties is attacked by another country.
A second supplemental agreement, signed in 2014, allows the US to maintain weapons and station American troops inside five Filipino army bases. This agreement played a pivotal role in the Philippine military’s defeat of armed groups in southern Philippines allied with the ISIL (ISIS) group.
There are now concerns that without the VFA, the two other pacts would become irrelevant.
“What is important to the president is that this is the time to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement. The more we rely on them, the more our position weakens,” Panelo said, adding that what Duterte wants to do next “remains to be seen”.
‘Assault on sovereignty’
Panelo also said that Duterte “won’t anymore” talk to Trump, and “won’t entertain any initiatives of the US government.”
Trump had earlier shrugged off Duterte’s decision to end the VFA, saying he “never minded that very much”, adding “it will save a lot of money.”
Duterte’s decision was sparked by the revocation of a US visa held by the former police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who led his so-called war on drugs that left thousands of people dead.
Panelo earlier explained that Duterte’s decision was a consequence of US legislative and executive actions that “bordered on assaulting our sovereignty and disrespecting our judicial system”.
Previously, Duterte had accused the US of using the agreements to conduct clandestine activities such as spying and the building of a nuclear weapons stockpile which he says risks making the Philippines a target for Chinese aggression.
Some Filipino senators sought to block Duterte’s move soon after news of it broke, arguing that without Senate approval he had no right to unilaterally scrap international pacts it had ratified.
Supporters of the agreements argue they have deterred Chinese militarisation in the South China Sea while $1.3bn of US defence assistance since 1998 has been vital in boosting the capabilities of under-resourced Philippine forces.
On Wednesday, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario described Duterte’s decision to terminate the VFA as a “national tragedy”.
Philippine nationalists, however, say the US did nothing to stop China building islands in the South China Sea equipped with missiles and say the VFA is tilted in favour of the Americans, including the granting of immunity from prosecution for US servicemen.
Since becoming president in 2016, Duterte has signalled a shift in alliance away from the US, and closer to China.