SANGLEY POINT, Cavite - The top brass of the Philippine Navy said they will continue to train with their US counterparts despite President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to scrap Manila's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington.
“We will continue to engage our closest allies in terms of training, in terms of capability upgrade. Tinutulungan naman tayo ng US (The US is helping us),” Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, the Navy’s Flag-Officer-in-Command, told ABS-CBN News in an interview Wednesday.
“We will continue to engage. We will continue to exercise with them."
Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA, which governs the conduct of American troops in Philippine territory, after Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, a close ally of the President, said his US visa was canceled.
Dela Rosa led the government's bloody war on drugs during his stint as police chief from 2016 to 2018. The US has taken issue with the administration's alleged disregard for human rights in carrying out its narcotics campaign.
On Friday, Malacañang said it started the process of terminating the military pact, and will no longer await Washington’s response.
Dela Rosa, however, said he will advise the President to instead "befriend America."
The military engagements of the US and the Philippines, including joint exercises and training, are anchored on the two countries' 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. A key provision of the pact allows one party to aid the other in times of attack by a third party.
In 1998, the VFA was forged to provide guidelines on treating US forces in the country.
A third, complementary accord, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, was signed in 2014, providing American forces wider access to Philippine military facilities, and allowing them to build structures and preposition defense equipment, supplies and materiel. The executive agreement is intended to boost Philippine defense capabilities, as well as facilitate quicker humanitarian assistance and disaster relief by the U.S.
- Report from Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News