Will joining Quad, improving Russia military ties benefit PH? Senate bets give takes

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2021 01:08 AM

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MANILA — Some Senate aspirants on Tuesday emphasized the Philippines should comprehensively review defense treaties and military alliances it might be joining in the future, amid tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

Five senatorial bets, during TeleRadyo's special program "Sino SENyo?", were asked if it would be better for the Philippines to join a possible defense alliance by the Quad, the grouping of the United States, Japan, India and Australia which has presented a united front amid shared concerns about China.

The program's participants included former senator and Sorsogon Gov. Chiz Escudero of Nationalist People's Coalition, former Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro of People's Reform Party, Luke Espiritu of Partido Lakas ng Masa, RJ Javellana of Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino, and indepedent aspirant Carmen Zubiaga.

Teodoro, who was the Philippines' defense chief during the Arroyo administration, said it depends on what Manila's "contribution will be to the alliance."

"'Di lang po ito nangangahulugan na meron tayong benepisyo kun'di may kontribusiyon. Kaya dapat pagaralan nating mabuti kung ano ang magiging obligasiyon at kontribusiyon natin dito," he said.

Zubiaga, Javellana and Escudero also emphasized that if the Philippines will join a military accord with other countries, this should not be an obstacle to Manila's independent foreign policy.

Espiritu, meanwhile, opposed the idea of the Philippines joining more defense treaties, saying the country will just be obligated to join armed conflict of other nations.

He blamed US bases in the country as the reason behind the Chinese occupation of West Philippine Sea maritime territories.

"Kaya ang China nasa West Philippine Sea, gumawa ng defense perimeter nila, dahil militarized na to begin with ang West Philippine Sea," Espiritu claimed.

Tensions have stemmed from China's aggressive activities and encroachment in the West Philippine Sea despite a UN-backed ruling in 2016 invalidating Beijing's claims in the hotly-contested waters.

US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed last September to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific "undaunted by coercion".

Amid tensions in the region, the Philippines and the US this year marked the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic ties and the 70th anniversary of their Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). 

RUSSIAN VFA?

Asked if they would approve of the Philippines, a long-time US military ally, to sign a Visiting Forces Agreement-like deal with Russia, a known US rival, most Senate bets said they are open to the idea but their vote would still depend on the provisions of the possible treaty with Moscow.

Zubiaga said if a possible accord with Russia can enhance the Philippine military, Manila should give it a chance while Javellana noted that Russia was never an enemy of the Philippines historically.

Escudero said the US should not have a "monopoly" of defense ties, while Espiritu, like his notion on Quad, opposed such a military agreement between Manila and Moscow, saying the Philippines will only be "sucked into wars of superpowers".

Teodoro, meanwhile, said he would vote for it in the Senate if such a treaty between the Philippines and Russia could provide "regional and extra-regional peace and stability" and capability upgrades for Filipino security forces.

He added the public must understand that military alliances do not only revolve around armed conflict, but also involve humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The Philippines' VFA with the United States provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. Experts say without it, other bilateral defense agreements with Washington, including the MDT, cannot be implemented.

Last September, President Rodrigo Duterte fully restored the VFA after he canceled it last year as a retaliation for the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, an administration ally. 

The abrogation had been suspended several times, until Duterte reversed his order. 

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