MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte is not eyeing a military pact with China after he scrapped a key deal in the Philippines defense alliance with the US, his spokesperson said Friday.
Duterte last week ordered the termination of the 2-decade old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US after it canceled the visa of his former drug war chief Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.
Asked if Duterte is open to a similar VFA with China, Presidential Spokesperson Salvado Panelo said, "no."
"Tinanong ko siya e. Sabi ko, 'Mr. President are you willing to enter into a new military forces agreement with another country? 'No,'" Panelo told ANC.
"Talagang desidido siya na tumayo na tayo sa ating kakayahan. If that will mean you will be spending more, then let's spend more," he said.
(He is decided that we stand on our own capability.)
The VFA is the legal framework for the presence of US troops on Philippine soil and is central to hundreds of annual, joint military exercises, which are a major component of their deep military ties.
Defenders of the decades-old agreement say ending it could both degrade the Philippines' ability to defend itself and undermine Washington's moves against Beijing's rise, particularly in the disputed South China Sea.
Duterte believes the Philippines' only enemies are terrorists and Moro rebels, said Panelo.
"Sabi niya ito lang ang kalaban natin. Kaya natin iyon dahil kung hindi natin kaya ito, wala tayong karapatan maging gobyerno," he said.
(He said those are only enemies. We can defeat those because if not, we have no right to be the government.)
The President scrapped the VFA due to Washington's criticism of his anti-drug war and a ban on Philippine officials behind the detention of his critic Sen. Leila De Lima, said Panelo.
The cancellation of Dela Rosa's visa was "the last straw that broke the camel's back," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said his chamber might ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the administration's move to scrap the VFA without seeking lawmakers' approval.
Some lawmakers are concerned that without the VFA, 2 other pacts would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
The MDT requires one party to defend the other in case of external aggression, while the 2014 EDCA, an executive agreement, allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country. With reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse