President Rodrigo Duterte is not considering a military pact with China after he scrapped a key deal in the Philippines’ defense alliance with the United States, his spokesman said Friday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo also said Malacañang was ready to heed the Supreme Court if it ruled that terminating the Philippines’ visiting forces agreement with the United States required a Senate concurrence.
This came after some senators vowed they would petition the Supreme Court questioning President Duterte’s decision to terminate the country’s military pact with Washington.
“We will seek the concurrence of the Senate if the Supreme Court says so. There’s no problem with that,” Panelo said.
Duterte last week ordered the termination of the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement with the US after it canceled the visa of his former drug war chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.
Asked if Duterte was open to a similar VFA with China, Panelo said “no.”
“I asked him, Mr. President are you willing to enter into a new military forces agreement with another country? ‘No,’” Panelo told ANC.
“He is decided that we stand on our own capability. If that will mean you will be spending more, then let’s spend more,” he said.
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 US-Philippine 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, Panelo says.
“He said those are our only enemies. We can defeat those because if not, we have no right to be the government.”
Duterte scrapped the VFA due to Washington’s criticism of his anti-drug war and the US ban on Philippine officials behind the detention of his critic Senator Leila de Lima, Panelo said.
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, two other pacts would be irrelevant: The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement made under the Obama administration and the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
The MDT requires one party to defend the other in case of external aggression, while the 2014 EDCA, an executive agreement, allows the greater rotational presence of US troops in the country.
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