Ending US-PH visiting forces accord will 'embolden' China: ex-envoy

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2020 08:59 AM | Updated as of Jan 27 2020 09:27 AM

Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) exercises between US and Philippine soldiers. file

MANILA - Ending the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US will likely embolden China in further militarizing disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea, a former diplomat said Monday.

Manila on Friday said it has begun the process of ending the VFA upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte, who wanted to halt the deal after US canceled the visa of his former police chief, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

The US will not beg the Philippines to keep the military deal, according to former Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr.

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"It will embolden China even more considering even with the MDT (Military Defense Treaty), the VFA, they have militarized those 3 reefs they grabbed from the Philippines," he told ANC's Early Edition.

"What I think the US will say is if that’s what you want then fine but please be aware of what the consequences are. I don’t think the US is gonna beg us. I think we will be the biggest loser, not the US."

Manila should first try to settle the matter through diplomatic means as Washington would be open for a review and a renegotiation of the VFA, Cuisia said.

"Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana mentioned that it is the prerogative of the Philippine government to terminate it because it is no longer to the interest of the Philippines but they have to prove to Congress and to the Filipino people because there will be a lot of questions," he said.

"The Filipinos, they will ask. The Filipinos trust the Americans much more than any other country."

A poll last year found 78 percent of Filipinos believe Manila's ties with Washington are more important compared to Beijing. The two largest economies have traded barbs over what Washington said is Beijing's militarization of the disputed sea.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier sought a review into the MDT, questioning provisions on whether the US would act immediately in case of an attack on the Philippines or would still seek congressional approval for it.

The US, however, assured the Philippines that an "any armed attack" would prompt Washington to act under the 67-year-old MDT.

The MDT and the VFA, which covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines, are among military agreements between the Philippines and the US.

The MDT also includes the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country.