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Cabinet members doubt wisdom of ending VFA — senator

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Duterte Cabinet
PRESIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS

SOME Cabinet members have expressed reservations about President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s decision to end a military agreement with the US on the deployment of troops for war games, a senator said yesterday.

The Cabinet members were not really against but were rather apprehensive about the presidential fiat, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson told reporters at a briefing.

“Many of them are afraid of the President,” he said, adding that his appointees did not know how to disagree without offending him.

Mr. Lacson said he had informally spoken with the Cabinet secretaries whom he did not identify.

The Philippines on Feb. 11 formally notified the US about its decision to end the two-decade-old visiting forces agreement (VFA). It will take effect after three months.

Mr. Duterte had threatened to end the pact after the US visa of Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief, was canceled.

Mr. Duterte’s decision could complicate US military interests in the broader Asia-Pacific region as China’s ambitions rise.

Some Filipino senators have sought to block the move, arguing Mr. Duterte had no right to unilaterally scrap international pacts the country’s Senate had ratified.

The VFA is important to the overall US-Philippine alliance and sets out rules for US soldiers operating in the Philippines, a former US colony.

Washington has called the relationship “ironclad,” despite Mr. Duterte’s complaints that include allegations of US hypocrisy and ill treatment.

Ending the VFA complicates Washington’s efforts to maintain an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of US personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.

Some lawmakers in the Philippines are concerned that without the VFA, two other pacts that make up the long-standing US alliance with Manila would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty.

Salvador S. Panelo, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman, has called the VFA a one-sided deal that only benefits the US.

Mr. Lacson said the government had put a lot of things at risk, noting that the US had been providing aid and assistance to the Philippines.

The Philippines has received about $1.3 billion in aid from the US since 1998, he said.

Mr. Lacson said 52% of the United States’ military assistance in the Asia-Pacific region goes to the Philippines. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas





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