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Panelo: Gov’t may also dissolve EDCA, MDT with US

By Genalyn Kabiling

Apart from scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, President Duterte may likely oppose the country’s two other defense accords with the western power in line with pursuing an independent defense strategy, a Palace official said Thursday.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo raised the possibility of dissolving the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as well as the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States after the President decided that the Philippines must stop being a “parasite” to another country in terms of national defense and security.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

The President believed the country must strengthen its own defense capabilities and “cannot be forever” relying on the United States for assistance, according to Panelo.

EDCA, signed in 2014, allows the rotational presence of US troops in the country as well as their access to local military camps as part of strengthening the country’s defense capability, maritime security, and humanitarian and disaster response.

The MDT, on other hand, commits the Philippines and the United States to help each other if either of them is under external armed attack in the Pacific. The treaty was signed on August 30, 1951.

“The way his body language is, mukhang ayaw na rin nya ‘yan kasi considering sinasabi niya na (it seems he also does not like it considering he said) it’s about time we stand on our own, strengthen our resources or our capabilities of defending the country,” Panelo said over DZMM Thursday when asked about the fate of EDCA.

“We cannot be relying forever, we cannot be a parasite to every country na gustong tumulong sa atin,” he added.

Asked if the President believes the MDT must continue, Panelo admitted that Duterte has questioned the terms of the agreement particularly the condition that the US will rush to the country’s aid if American forces are under attack.

“Tinanong ni Presidente yung ambassador ng US at the time, kung papaano ‘yung sa China nga, ang parang sagot sa kanya kapag inatake yung American forces saka sila gagalaw. So, kapag tayo pala, hindi. Parang ganoon ang dating. Kaya sabi niya, ‘Eh bakit pa tayo may mutual defense pa kung ganyan. Kung kami pala, hindi kayo gagalaw (The President asked the US ambassador at the time about China, he said they will only act if the American forces are under attack. So if we’re under attack, they won’t move. That seems to be the case. So the President said, ‘Why do we need the mutual defense treaty if that’s the case. If we’re attacked, you won’t make a move to help us),” Panelo said.

“Sa madaling sabi, si Presidente, ayaw na niya ‘yung ganitong usapin eh. Kailangan kung mayroon talagang usapin, yung equal yung tratamiento (In other words, the President is opposed to such an agreement. If there is an agreement, there must be equal treatment),” he said

Panelo said he heard that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been asked to review the country’s existing defense agreements with the United States. He did not elaborate.

He also noted that the Senate is expected to conduct its own review of the VFA and other military accords with the United States.

The Philippine government recently notified the US government of its desire to terminate the VFA, which governs the conduct of American troops visiting the country. The decision came after the President objected to the “inequities” in the treaty provisions as well as other alleged US meddling in the country’s affairs.

Asked if the President was open to renegotiating the VFA, Panelo maintained that Duterte would not entertain any move to “salvage” such agreement with the United States.

“Sa tingin ko, wala. Sinabi niya unchanged (I don’t think so. He said his position is unchanged),” he said. “It’s carved in stone, not in water,” he added.

Panelo said that a person or a government may still change a decision or position depending on the prevailing circumstances.

“If the circumstances require you to make such kind of decision, then gagawin mo ‘yun (then you will do it). But if the circumstances change, magbabago ka rin. Sa ngayon, sa tingin ni Presidente, eh napaka-onerous niyan. Laban sa atin ‘yan, hindi naman pabor sa atin ‘yan. Sila lang nakikinabang (you will also change. For now, the President thinks that agreement is onerous, disadvantageous to us. They are the only one benefiting from it),” he said.

On the prospect of forging visiting forces pacts with other countries, Panelo said it appears the President is no longer open to the idea.

“Batay sa kanyang pananalita, hindi rin siya bukas doon (Based on his statement, he is also not open to that). The basic premise is we have to stand on our own. Kailangan palakasin na natin ang sarili, huwag na tayong umasa sa iba (We have to strengthen ourselves, not depend on others),” he said.

Panelo said they hope the country’s next president would be as bold and independent as Duterte in terms of advancing the country’s independent foreign policy.

“Yung susunod sa kanya dapat kasing-tindi niya rin. Yung may sariling judgment, hindi umaasa kung kani-kanino. ‘Yun ang mahalaga na kung sino ba ang susunod upang ipagpatuloy ang kanyang inumpisahan (His 9Duterte’s) successor should be as strong as him. Someone who has his own judgment, who does not rely on others. That’s important. Whoever is the next leader must continue what the President started),” he said.

Read more: PH serves VFA termination notice to US

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