Talks on possible VFA replacement doesn’t have Duterte’s blessing — Panelo
MANILA, Philippines – The search for a replacement to the terminated Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) was not sanctioned by President Rodrigo Duterte, his spokesperson clarified on Sunday.
According to Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Duterte’s position on the VFA termination remains unchanged — even if Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said that top diplomats from both sides are searching for a VFA replacement.
“Wala, walang basbas ni Presidente. Initiative siguro ‘yon ng counterpart ni Ambassador Romualdez, syempre sila apektado eh, kaya sila ang mag-initiate ng magandang mga panukala,” Panelo said in an interview with Radyo Inquirer.
(None, it did not have the President’s blessing. Maybe that’s the initiative of Ambassador Romualdez’ counterpart, of course they are affected; that’s why they would initiate good proposals.)
“And even assuming na totoo ‘yon, eh ‘yon ay puro rekomendasyon lang ito kay Presidente, pero si Presidente, ang posisyon remains unchanged. Gusto niya pa rin na matanggal ang VFA, gusto niya talaga na maging self-reliant tayo,” he added.
(And even assuming that the reports are true, all of those are mere recommendations to the President, but his position remains unchanged. He still wants to remove the VFA, he really the Philippines to be self-reliant.)
Romualdez revealed last Friday in a forum centered on the VFA termination that top diplomats from Manila and Washington are convening to try crafting an agreement that would suit the taste of President Duterte.
He also claimed that while Duterte appeared bent on junking the VFA, the door is not yet totally shut.
“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come up with something similar, perhaps, again, still following the President’s thinking about the sovereignty issue,” he said
Panelo said that in his conversation with Romualdez, the latter claimed that the study was only on the treaties and agreements that may be used as a basis in future deals, but not necessarily for the creation of a VFA counterpart.
“Actually kausap ko si Ambassador Romualdez, tinatanggi niya ‘yon, ang sinasabi niya parang pinag-aaralan nila ‘yong mga ibang mga agreement, kasi masama o makakabuti sa ating bansa,” Panelo explained.
(Actually I talked with Ambassador Romualdez, he is denying that, what he said is that they are studying the other agreements, if whether these are harmful or good for the country.
“I don’t think so,” he said, after being asked if the ambassador and Duterte had met. “Kasi tinanong ko siya kung nagkausap sila ni Presidente, hindi naman daw. Ang sinasabi niya, baka maganda yung agreements with Japan, with Australia, na pwedeng maging basehan in the future. Pero sinabi na nga ni Presidente na ayaw niya eh.”
(I don’t think so. Because I asked him if he and the President has already talked, he said no. What he is saying is that the agreements with Japan, with Australia may be good bases for the future. But the President has already said that he does not want it.)
The VFA termination came after the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa — Duterte’s close ally and his former police chief — was revoked by the United States. Observers attributed this to Dela Rosa’s role in the implementation of the war against illegal drugs, and in the arrest of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.
Duterte threatened US officials to rescind the decision or face the VFA termination. Washington did not budge, with US president Donald Trump saying that it will save them a lot of money.
Panelo however assured that treaties with other countries — whether they are allies of US — will remain in place except if there is a compelling reason for Duterte to remove it.
“Now ‘pag ang tanong mo naman, papaano ‘yong mga pending na military agreements with other countries, eh di tuloy pa rin ‘yon. Kaya niya lang naman tinerminate ‘yong VFA kasi ayaw niya ‘yong, as a matter of pride and principle, ayaw niya ‘yong sinisira o sinasalakay ang ating sovereignty, kaya niya ginawa ‘yon,” he said.
(Now if you’re asking if what would happen to the military agreements with other countries, those would continue. He only terminated the VFA because he doesn’t want them, as a matter of pride and principle, to step on our sovereignty. That’s why he did such.)
“Apart from dati nang disadvantageous ‘yan sa atin, ang paniniwala niya ang bansa natin dapat tumayo bilang isang bansa on our own, hindi pupwedeng palagi na lang tayong umaasa sa ibang bansa para ipagtanggol ang ating mga sarili,” he added.
(Apart from it being disadvantageous for us, the President’s belief is that we should be able to stand as a country on our own, as we cannot always rely on other countries just to defend ourselves.)
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