'You’re welcome,' Duterte spox tells Trump on VFA termination

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2020 05:01 PM

MANILA - The Philippine presidential office on Thursday returned the courtesy to United States President Donald Trump after he thanked Manila for the money that it would save over the termination of the two countries' Visiting Forces Agreement.

Trump had said he was “fine” with the termination of the military pact, and touted his “very good relationship" with his Philippine counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte.

"You know, my views are different than other people. I view it as, 'Thank you very much. We save a lot of money,'" Trump told reporters at the White House.

Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo welcomed the US leader’s remarks and even noted that Trump might agree with the Philippines’ goal of a self-reliant military.

“Then, he is welcome. If he said that, how can we be more popish than the pope?” Panelo said.

“Maybe he (Trump) agrees with the position of the President (Duterte) that it is time that we stand on our own resources and defend our country from enemies of the state by ourselves and not rely on the help of other countries,” he added.

The Philippines on Tuesday formally notified the US of its intent to pull out of the military deal, which the treaty allies signed in 1998, in a move that Panelo said is in line with Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy. It is expected to take effect 180 days later.

“We weaken ourselves if we keep on being parasites to any of the countries,” Panelo said.

'THEY NEED US'

Panelo claimed that by terminating the VFA, the Philippines gained the respect of the US since it shows “we do not need them.”

“You must remember that the VFA and other treaties are there precisely because of the global strategic defensive positioning of the United States. You must remember that the perceived enemies of the US are very near this country, hence they need us,” Panelo said.

“Advantage sa kanila kapag kasama tayo nila eh.”

("It is to their advantage if we are with them.")

The VFA is anchored on Manila and Washington's 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty that allows military training exchanges, joint exercises, and humanitarian aid, on top of the assurance that both sides come to each other's aid in case of an attack by a third party.

Some analysts say abrogating the VFA would undermine US efforts in countering Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea.

Washington, through its embassy in Manila, had said that the move was a “serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance.”

“We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests," the embassy said.

- With a report from Reuters and Agence France-Presse