Other US military deals 'must go' based on Duterte's stance, Panelo says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — President Rodrigo Duterte also wants to scrap the Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, his spokesperson said Thursday.

The MDT states that Manila and Washington would come to each other's defense in case of an attack by a foreign state, while the EDCA allows the US military to maintain barracks and weapons storage structures inside five military camps in the Philippines.

These military agreements should end along with the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement, said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a media briefing.

Duterte moved to scrap the VFA on Tuesday, marking the start of the 180-day period from when it will be effectively scrapped. The Duterte administration has since pushed for self-reliance, saying the President wants the country to be able to stand on its own.

"To be consistent with his (Duterte's) stand, then all treaties must go," Panelo said in a media briefing.

"I'm just reading the body language of the President. The premise is we have to strengthen ourselves. E 'di that means you will not be relying on other countries for your defenses," he explained.

The VFA, a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington, legally allows the entry of a large number of American troops, exempting them from passport and visa regulations so they can participate in military activities in the Philippines.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

How to end MDT, EDCA

Panelo agreed with the some lawmakers and experts that ending the VFA is as good as terminating the MDT and the EDCA, but he said he's not sure if the Philippines would have to send the US another termination notice to make that happen.

"I understand the Senate is going to review these two treaties... So we'll wait for their recommendation," Panelo said.

Earlier, Duterte pushed through with terminating the VFA despite the Senate's resolution calling for a thorough review before deciding on its fate.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. also pushed for a "vigorous review" of the VFA instead, saying the continuance of the agreement "is deemed to be more beneficial" for the Philippines.

He highlighted benefits the Philippines has been getting from the VFA: military assistance, financial grants, and deterrence against possible attacks from other countries, among others. He said he will negotiate controversial provisions, such as the lack of travel restrictions for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.

Still, Duterte pushed through with junking the VFA on Tuesday in response to the US' cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's US visa. The Philippine senator, known to have close ties with Duterte, acknowledged that the revocation of his visa may have something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.

The night before sending the US the termination notice, Duterte called the US rude for meddling in the Philippines' local affairs, citing American senators' demand for the release of Senator Leila de Lima – an opposition lawmaker detained on drug charges, which they believe are part of the Duterte government's crackdown against its critics.

Panelo: We don't need the United States

When asked if the Philippines gained the US' respect after junking the VFA, Panelo said it did.

"Yes, of course. How? By terminating it, we show them that we do not need them," Panelo said.

This is contrary to US President Donald Trump's statement saying he "never minded [it] very much."

"I view it as, 'Thank you very much. We save a lot of money,'" Trump said in an interview in Washington. He also stressed how the US "came in and literally single-handedly" saved the Philippines from the ISIS-linked Maute group that took over Marawi City in Mindanao in 2017.

Panelo, however, hinted that Trump may not be entirely serious in shrugging off the end of the VFA.

"Let's see how his words will match the actions of the US government," he said.

He added that Washington needs Manila. "You must remember that the perceived enemies of the US are very near this country hence, they need us... Kagaya nga niyan nandito ang mga pwersa nila, they can easily neutralize any attack near us."