US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Philippine time) said he is “fine” with the Philippines’ decision to terminate the two-decades military agreement with the United States.
“I never minded that very much, to be honest. If they would like to do that, that’s fine. We’ll save a lot of money. You know, my views are different than other people. I view it as, ‘Thank you very much. We save a lot of money,’” he said in an interview at the Oval Office in Washington, D.C.
With the pact, the Philippines is receiving military assistance and financial grants from US.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier claimed his counterpart was “trying to save” the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Trump’s response is also a stark contrast to the view of his Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said ending the military agreement is “unfortunate” and “a move in the wrong direction” in terms of dealing with China’s aggression.
The VFA is a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country. Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over its military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.
With six months left before the VFA is effectively scrapped, Trump underscored the hand US extended to the Philippines to combat terrorism, specifically the five-month Marawi siege in 2017. He claimed American troops “came in and literally single-handedly” saved the country from ISIS and ISIS-backed Maute group.
He also highlighted his warm relations with President Rodrigo Duterte.
“My relationship, as you know, is a very good one with their leader. And we’ll see what happens. They’ll have to tell me that,” Trump said.
Duterte pushed through with terminating the military pact despite concerns raised by several officials, including his Foreign Affairs Secretary, Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. In a Senate hearing last week, the senior diplomat pushed for a “vigorous review” of the VFA instead, saying the continuance of the agreement “is deemed to be more beneficial” for the Philippines.
The Philippine Senate also passed a resolution calling for a thorough review of the VFA before coming to a decision regarding its fate.
Malacañang on Tuesday said there’s nothing the US can do to salvage the VFA, adding that Duterte will never accept any invitation to visit America.
The Duterte administration has repeatedly criticized US senators for demanding the release of Senator Leila de Lima — an opposition lawmaker detained on drug charges — and for seeking sanctions against those involved in her imprisonment and in alleged extrajudicial killings in the country. Duterte called the US rude for meddling in the Philippines’ local affairs.
The final straw was when the US canceled Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s tourist visa. The Philippine senator known to have close ties with Duterte acknowledged that the revocation of his visa may have something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.
In January, Duterte gave the US a month to “correct” the revocation of Dela Rosa’s visa, but later said he would no longer wait and ordered the termination of the VFA instead.