The country has no business being a republic if it cannot survive without the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
This, President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized during a speech Wednesday night as he admitted that the only consultation he made was with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) before that crucial decision to abrogate the two-decade old VFA.
The President said that no one from his Cabinet, even Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, knew about his decision.
“The only question I asked the Armed Forces was ‘can we survive without America? Can we fight the wars that we are (facing)?” Duterte asked.
“Because if we cannot do it, we have no business being a republic,” he added.
Duterte stressed that the move was “deliberate” and not a “knee jerk reaction” against the US as claimed by critics of the administration.
“I am the most deliberate. That’s why I sleep until almost — I’m awake until six o’clock in the morning, just thinking of what I have to do in the following day,” the President said.
“You can’t play around the Republic of the Philippines with a knee-jerk reaction. It’s always what is good for our country,” he added.
The Commander in Chief said that the Philippines can just be under the US or China if it cannot stand on its own.
“We can be a territory of the Americans or we can be a province of China if we cannot do it,” the President said.
AFP up for the task
Relatedly, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo on Thursday reiterated AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.’s pronouncement that the 135,000-strong military can survive without the VFA.
“It bears repeating: we can survive, we will, we should,” declared Arevalo.
“We — soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines — are toeing the line of the Commander-in-Chief and President Rodrigo Duterte towards self-reliance,” he added.
Arevalo vowed the AFP’s readiness to perform its mandate without VFA.
“With the abrogation of the VFA, we assure our countrymen that we will again, as our forebears did in their time, valiantly face contemporary threats to national security, terrorism, and other transnational crimes,” Arevalo said.
“We will secure our people and defend our country with the relatively and modestly modern AFP we have now,” he also said.
The President said that US lawmakers’ continued demand to release opposition Sen. de Lima from jail portrays the Philippines as incapable of administering justice.
He pointed out that De Lima’s case has been decided by no less than the Supreme Court as being in order contrary to US claims.
“You know, De Lima she was investigated and the investigation was even brought in court, to the Supreme Court, to decide whether or not everything was in order. And the Supreme Court said it is,” Duterte said.
De Lima has been in detention since 2017 for drug-related charges. She was accused of receiving huge cash from convicted drug lords during her incumbency as justice secretary in the previous Aquino administration.
“The problem with the Americans they kept on hammering and demanding the release (of De Lima) and then threatening those Filipino officials in government who were one way or another connected with the case, whether as investigator or as a prosecutor and even the Supreme Court which rendered an opinion on a certain point of the case,” Duterte said.
The US government has already cancelled the visa of Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, a former chief of the Philippine National Police and a close ally of Duterte.
Last 11 February, the Department of Foreign Affairs has already notified the US Embassy regarding the abrogation of VFA. The termination will take effect after 180 days.