MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she is willing to change her mind about the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia if the country will guarantee its assistance to the Philippines during times of conflict.
Santiago, who criticized the treaty for being too vague, said nations such as Australia that wish to enter into similar agreements with the Philippines must be willing to commit in writing that it will come to the country’s aid whenever it is faced with conflict, armed or otherwise.
In the face of perceived threats from China over disputes regarding certain areas in the West Philippine Sea, Santiago said the Philippines would need the assistance of its allies, both in Asia and the West.
Santiago reiterated the Philippines will never have a chance against China in a military confrontation over the disputed areas so it must rely on allies for support.
“What we have to trust is our western allies and our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors,” Santiago said.
“Now in the case of Australia for example, which is working for a VFA in the Senate, which I and I think seven others opposed, but if these countries who what have VFAs with us – the United States, Europe and many others maybe South Korea, maybe Singapore etc. – if they would commit in writing that when the Philippines is attacked... when the Philippines is victimized with the threat of the use of force, we will come to the defense of the Philippines, then I would be willing to rethink my position on the Australian VFA,” she added.
Santiago said what the Senate can do with the treaty is to suspend action on it and tell Malacañang to ask Australia to amend the terms so that there will be an automatic sympathy clause when the Philippines is under attack.
“If we need help then they should commit to come to our assistance. This is what we need,” she said.
The Senate was supposed to put the SOVFA between Australia and the Philippines to a vote before the sine die adjournment of Congress last month but Santiago, along with Senators Joker Arroyo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., raised several issues against the treaty. – With Aurea Calica