Published:  12:22 AM, 13 February 2020

Philippine military backs defense divorce from US

Philippine military backs defense divorce from US A 2014 photo showing the US and the Philippines conducting joint military live fire exercises at Fort Magsaysay army training camp in the Philippine province of Nueva Ecija. - EPA
The Philippine military on Wednesday stood by the president's decision to scrap a security agreement with the United States, saying the country could now develop its own defense capabilities and alliances, and would do fine without it.

The military chief backed President Rodrigo Duterte's termination of the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and said doing so would allow the Philippines to expand its modernization program and its engagement with Australia and Japan - both US allies.

Armed forces commander, General Felimon Santos, said planes and ships were being procured from countries other than the United States, such as South Korea, while Filipinos were now "doing the leg work" on intelligence gathering on Islamist extremists. "You know these sentiments of soldiers, we are all high morale," he told reporters. "It will make us more eager to build up our own capabilities."

Despite his defense and foreign ministers last week speaking favorably of the VFA, Duterte's decision was not a complete surprise given his disdain for the Philippines' close ties with Washington and what he sees as subservience to an abusive and hypocritical former colonial ruler. He has been determined to build a strong relationship with China, despite a history of diplomatic friction, and some unease among a US-leaning defense apparatus wary about Beijing's militarization and island-building in the South China Sea.

Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo said US disagreement with the firebrand president's move was motivated by its own strategic interests, and that it was time for the Philippines to be militarily independent.

"Reliance on another country for our own defenses against the enemies of the state will ultimately weaken and stagnate our defense mechanisms," Panelo said in a statement. "We must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite to another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty."

--Reuters, Manila

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