If President Rodrigo Duterte thought U.S. President Donald Trump would feel oh-so-sad over the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), then he’s mistaken.
Trump told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t at all bothered by Duterte’s unilateral decision to cancel the VFA, which gives the U.S. jurisdiction over crimes committed by American servicemen in the Philippines. Trump even used it as an opportunity to remind the Philippine government that U.S. forces helped them win the Marawi Siege, when ISIS-affiliated rebels took over the Mindanao city.
“Well, I never minded that very much, to be honest,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS… I don’t really mind if they would like to do that; it will save a lot of money. My views are different from others.”
Trump added, however, that he has a “very good relationship” with Duterte, AFP reports.
“[W]e’ll see what happens,” he said.
Trump’s reaction runs contrary to Duterte’s public claim that the similarly mercurial U.S. leader was trying to “save” the VFA, which Duterte terminated after the U.S. pissed him off by canceling the visa of his ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa. After his motives were publicly questioned, even by figures supportive of the move, Duterte maintained that he wanted to end the agreement in retaliation for the injustices that the Americans have done to Filipinos.
After initially appearing to have second thoughts, the temperamental Duterte ultimately pushed through with his plan, despite being warned by at least one ally that the Philippines had “a lot” to lose if the VFA were junked.
Unlike Trump, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had already expressed concern over the VFA’s termination, saying on Tuesday that it was a “move in the wrong direction.”
Today, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo sought to paint Duterte’s decision as a push for greater self-reliance on the part of the Philippines.
“As the President says, if we keep on relying on the United States [for] our defense, our defenses will always remain stagnant or weak,” he told cable channel ANC. “We have to strengthen our own defense. We cannot be forever relying on the Americans for our defenses.”
Though the impact of the VFA’s termination on overall Philippine-U.S. relations remains to be seen, it does not explicitly negate the two countries’ Mutual Defense Treaty, which requires the U.S. to come to the Philippines’ aid if it is attacked, or vice versa.
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