US can’t help Philippines if military agreement is scrapped, says deputy speaker

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MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer) — The United States would not be able to come to the Philippines’ aid during disasters if the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA is scrapped.

Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel, a pro-administration lawmaker, said on Monday that this is one worrisome and likely consequence of President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to terminate the VFA with the United States.

Pimentel expressed concern that terminating the VFA might hamper the ability of the U.S. military “to swiftly provide lifesaving help” to the Philippines, as what happened in recent calamitous events.

“We are worried that without the VFA, the U.S. military might not be able to rush in if we need their support in saving lives during volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, supertyphoons and other natural disasters,” Pimentel said in a statement.

He noted that the Philippines had consistently ranked among the top countries in the world that were most vulnerable to disasters.

“And we are a large archipelago. It is not easy for us to quickly move emergency equipment, supplies and personnel during disasters, given the limited resources of our own Navy and Air Force,” Pimentel said.

The VFA facilitates the temporary entry and stay of U.S. military personnel, vessels and aircraft in the country, upon approval by the Philippine government, with minimal procedural requirements, he noted.

Pimentel recalled that an entire U.S. Navy group led by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington was able to rush military and humanitarian assistance during relief efforts for victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda or Haiyan in the central Philippine islands in 2013.

“Because of the VFA, the U.S. Navy group had no problem coming in straight away and operating out of Leyte Gulf,” he said.

“They deployed aircraft for search and rescue missions and delivered relief supplies around the disaster zone,” Pimentel said.

“There’s no question the U.S. Pacific Fleet has vastly superior logistical assets and a multitude of capabilities — from medical to communications to civil engineering — that will be helpful when needed,” Pimentel said.

But another Duterte ally, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who served as foreign affairs secretary from 2017 to 2018, said it might be the right time to revisit the terms of the VFA and study whether it was still beneficial to the country, considering the U.S.’ “neglect” of its ally.

“Today, if we do our research and review the facts, we can see that we have been neglected by the United States. They have stood by blindly as we were abused by our neighbors and our territory snatched from us,” he said.

“And their former enemies — despite still differing values on democratic process and human rights — continue to get better treatment and more resources from them than their old friend, and ever reliable ally, the Philippines,” Cayetano said.

He urged the public to reexamine the country’s relationship with the United States.

“Let’s spend the next few days reviewing not only the VFA but our long relationship with the United States government. Their position on critical issues vis-a-vis our position — especially those affecting Philippine domestic matters — must be reexamined,” he said.

“Let us also look at the evolving global relationship among nations, and how their friends and our friends react and interact in relation to conflicting claims that affect the Philippines,” Cayetano said.

He asked: “Is the U.S. ready to stand by its most loyal ally, or will its interest dictate neutrality at a time when ours need them to be firmly and unequivocally by our side?”

In related news, President Duterte said his American counterpart, Donald Trump, is trying to “save” the Visiting Forces Agreement.

“I said no way,” Duterte said, adding that the U.S. has been “meddling” in its former colony’s affairs, citing some U.S. lawmakers’ demand to release opposition Sen. Leila de Lima from detention.

“America is so rude,” Duterte said. “Imagine demanding the release of De Lima under threat that we will not receive aid and that all persons who had a hand in the imprisonment of De Lima will not be allowed to go to the United States. [Expletive deleted] What’s so special about America?”

Duterte also said that the U.S. has not helped the country in fighting Communist rebels.

Duterte earlier ordered the termination of the VFA, which took effect in 1999, if the U.S. does not “correct” its cancellation of the U.S. visa of former police chief and pro-administration Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

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