MANILA -- The Philippine military can "live without" its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, which President Rodrigo Duterte ordered scrapped after being in effect for 22 years, its new commander said Wednesday.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will "increase" military engagements with other allies including Japan and Australia to make up for the loss of the VFA, said the new Chief of Staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.
Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games will proceed in May unless Washington wishes otherwise, Santos said. The annual exercise falls within the 180-day notification period to abrogate the VFA, he said.
"We can live without VFA. We have lived before nung nawala yung [Military] Bases Agreement... wala namang nangyari sa atin," he said.
"It will make us more eager to build our own capability," he said, noting that the military has been receiving some P20 billion annually under President Rodrigo Duterte's AFP modernization program.
On Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs served the US Embassy in Manila formal notice expressing the Philippines' withdrawal from the VFA.
The VFA governs war games between Filipino and American troops in the Philippines. It also includes mechanisms to hold US troops accountable in case they violated Philippine laws.
Two US servicemen were convicted of rape and homicide in separate cases while the VFA was in effect.
Duterte ordered the termination of the treaty after the US canceled the visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who oversaw his war on drugs as Philippine National Police chief.
Despite the looming cancellation of the VFA, Filipino troops' morale remained high, Santos said.
"Sino naman ang hindi maha-high morale e dinoble suweldo mo, lagi kang ina-appreciate in all engagements. Sino pa ba magagalit diyan? Wala siguro," he said referring to Duterte's push for higher salaries for Filipino troops.
(Whose morale will not be high when our salaries were doubled, when we are appreciated in all engagements. How can you get angry?)
"We will support the President's political decision," he said.