Romina Cabrera (The Philippine Star) – February 19, 2021 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — The newly installed chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is mum on the issue on the possible termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said that the military respects the wisdom of President Duterte as commander in chief in connection with the VFA.
“I don’t want to invoke my personal view. I am a soldier, a good follower. The President is the commander-in-chief and I respect his wisdom,” he said in an interview Wednesday on One News’ “The Chiefs.”
Sobejana said the Philippine military should be able to stand on its own and not be dependent on the US or other countries.
“As an organization, as the AFP, we should be able to stand alone. If we are so dependent on other countries, hindi tayo ano, sinasabi natin na (we can’t say) we should be on top of the situation always,” he added.
“It is just a matter of allocating what we have, optimizing the utilization of our resources to make things happen and solve problems and achieve long lasting peace and progress,” he added.
He said that the Philippines and US continue to enjoy a good diplomatic relationship even with the VFA in limbo.
He said that the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty continues to be in force. The treaty guarantees military support if one of the allies or the other is attacked.
Sobejana said that he has already ordered the deployment of more naval assets in the West Philippine Sea to protect local fishermen from harassment by Chinese forces.
“We emphasize we do not go there to wage war against China. It is clear that our intention is to protect our own people for their livelihood. We cannot afford that their families will go hungry because they cannot go fishing,” he added.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Harry Roque chided Sen. Panfilo Lacson for saying the Senate has a say on negotiating a VFA, saying the agreement is not a treaty.
“On the Visiting Forces Agreement, I already mentioned that not all agreements we enter with various countries are treaties that need Senate concurrence,” Roque said at a Palace briefing.
The word war between Roque and Lacson erupted after the President remarked that the US should pay if it wants the VFA to continue. Lacson had commented that Duterte should review the Constitution.
Roque said the President may abrogate the VFA without getting Senate concurrence.
Duterte sought the abrogation of the VFA on Feb. 11 last year over alleged inequities in its provisions. Also, Duterte made the move after some US senators criticized his administration’s bloody drug war and moved for the cancellation of the visa of former police chief and now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
The Philippines sent a formal notice of termination to the US last year—supposedly to take effect 180 days after the serving of the notice. However, Manila suspended the revocation of the VFA in June last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a diplomatic note dated June 1, Manila said the suspension of VFA’s termination is effective for six months and can be extended for another six months. The VFA, signed in 1998, allows the US to station forces in selected areas in the country. — Christina Mendez