MANILA: Washington will continue to find ways to strengthen and advance security cooperation with the Philippines, its oldest ally in the region, the US State Department told Arab News.
He follows a recent request from President Rodrigo Duterte for the US to pay more if it wants to keep the two-decade Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) which allows US troops to be deployed in the country.
We appreciate our alliance with the Philippines, which is the oldest in the Asia-Pacific region, the State Department said.
Irashte an unprovoked, angry tirade on Friday, during a speech to Philippine troops after inspecting newly acquired air assets, Duterte said that if the US wants the VFA to continue, it will have to pay, citing U.S. relations. -Kineze.
It’s a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come out for free. Because after all, when war breaks out, we all pay, Duterte said. We are closer to the garrison there, where there are many arsenals of Chinese armed forces.
While the State Department letter did not directly address Duterte’s demands, she stressed that she would continue to seek ways to further strengthen and advance security co-operation that further share security challenges and respect human rights.
“Open dialogue between allies is essential to maintaining the strength of an alliance which is vital to the security of both our countries,” he said.
Duterte had unilaterally canceled the VFA last year in an angry response to an ally refusing a US visa, but withdrew his decision a few months later.
He has faced widespread criticism for his recent remarks at the VFA, which some Filipinos said were embarrassing.
Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vice President Leni Robredo, for their part, said Duterte’s statement gave the impression that the Philippines was a nation of extortionists.
Duterte responded during his public speech on Monday, when he said that foreign relations or foreign policy is worn only by the president and that Lacson had nothing to do with the VFA.
On Tuesday, however, Lacson stressed that the constitution gives senators a say in Philippine international agreements such as the VFA, especially if they affect the country’s long-term national interest and security.
Lacson added that a diplomatic and civilian approach is more effective in protecting the national interest in the long run.
Another lawmaker, Senator Richard Gordon, advised Duterte to let his defense and foreign affairs secretaries negotiate privately for the VFA.
Although the words were too harsh that the presidents’ demand was for the interests of the countries, he said.
During his speech Monday, Duterte also accused the U.S. of storing weapons in warehouses in the Philippines and slowly turning Subic into a U.S. base.
Subic is a former US naval base north of the capital, Manila.
Denying the presidents’ claims, Wilma Eisma, chairwoman and administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), said in a statement Wednesday that, under the VFA, U.S. warships and support vessels are allowed to visit the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.
The deal also gives the same privilege to ships from other nations, including Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia, whose military ships are anchored here under the said deal, Esima said.
She added that visits to the port by foreign warships last only for a few days sufficient time for landing and reloading of troops and assets in case of military exercises under VFA, or for supplying ships and ground visits by crew in cases other.
These visits, she explained, have in no way turned the Subic Bay Freeport into a military base.
Eisma further said that according to its mandate, SBMA operates and manages the special economic zone to develop a self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial and investment center to generate employment opportunities in and around the area and to attract and promote investment productive foreign.
The SBMA will continue with its economic mandate and will be pushed to the competent authorities in the matter of foreign policy and national security, she said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque backed the presidents’ demands Monday that Washington pay more than free changes to the VFA.
If we have very strong ties with a very strong ally, then I think it also comes with a higher amount of financial aid to be given, he said at a regular conference.
Roque cited a study by the Washington-based Stimson Center, which showed that the Philippines received $ 3.9 billion in U.S. support against terrorism from 2002-2017 compared to $ 16.4 billion for Pakistan over the same period.
We got $ 3.9 billion. Is that a big deal? This is free change compared to what other countries were getting, he said.
The VFA provides a legal framework through which US troops can operate on a rotating basis in the Philippines.
Experts say without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, cannot be implemented.
After announcing to Washington in February last year that he was canceling the deal, he subsequently extended the termination process, which the administration of U.S. President Joe Bidens will now oversee.
Representatives from both countries met to see more disagreements over the deal.
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