AFP chief Gapay: Despite ‘warmer’ ties with China, PH will not ‘abandon’ traditional ally US

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 02 2020 07:21 PM

Philippine and US troops unload medical supplies as they land at Cagayancillo in Palawan for their Community Health Education and training as part of the 2016 Balikatan Exercise on Sunday. Dante Diosina, Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines will not "abandon" its ties with its traditional ally United States despite "warming" relations with China, new Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gilbert Gapay said, Wednesday.

While the military is "anticipating" the "permanent termination" of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Filipino troops will continue to honor the agreement while it is still in effect, Gapay told the Commission on Appointments.

"While our ties with China are warming up, it doesn't mean that we are abandoning our ties with the United States and our other allies," he said.

Since he rose to power in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has distanced himself form Washington after former US President Barack Obama criticized his war on drugs that has left thousands of suspected drug peddlers and users dead.

At the same time, Duterte turned to Beijing to seek loans from the world's second largest economy to fund his billions-worth infrastructure push.

Earlier this year, Duterte pushed for the termination of the VFA -- which binds Manila and Washington to come to the aid of the other in the event of an attack -- after the United States cancelled the 10-year visa of his ally, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.

In June, Duterte suspended the termination of the accord citing "heightened super power tensions" and developments related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

"This [suspension of the VFA termination] is a welcome development for us because training continues," Gapay said.

"Interoperability is being enhanced regularly through the conduct of these joint exercises with our allied forces, but because of COVID, these kinetic exercises are put on hold, but we continue to train through virtual channels.

"We continue to send our personnel to the US for training and the maintenance support, the grants are still there," he added, noting that the Philippines receives $50 million annually from the world's strongest military power "for the maintenance of our aircraft and military vessels."

While the military appreciates the support and training from its US counterparts, the Philippines should also prepare to be more independent in terms of military capabilities, the AFP chief said.