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February 09, 2020
Rodrigo Duterte with Manny Pacquiao
President Duterte with Senator Pacquiao during an event at Malacañang.

Pacquiao pushes for review, not termination, of Visiting Forces Agreement with US.

DESPITE Malacañang’s announcement that President Rodrigo Duterte has already ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to send a formal notice to the United States government for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao said there is still time for the president to have a change of heart.

The President must weigh the cost and benefits of the VFA before making any decision to rescind a treaty which can have an irreversible implication in the country’s security, Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao said Friday.

Pacquiao said that while he understands the sentiment of President Duterte especially with the apparent dislike of some US senators with the way he is running state affairs, he should still look at the “bigger picture” and consider the far-reaching consequences of abrogating a very important defense pact with a long-time ally like the US.

“Nirerespeto at naiintindihan natin ang paninindigan ng Pangulo tungkol sa VFA ngunit sa tingin ko, kailangang timbangin munang mabuti kung makakabuti o makakasama ba sa atin kapag bumitaw tayo sa isang tratado na matagal nang napagkasunduan,” Pacquiao said.

“Obviously, there are certain US senators who are seeking attention because of the upcoming US elections this year.  We should not allow the VFA and our relations with the US become a collateral damage in the upcoming US elections,” Pacquiao noted.

Pacquiao said that he truly admires President Duterte’s hardline position in rebuking what he perceives as America’s meddling in the country’s affairs but this is not sufficient ground to turn our back on a very important international security pact.

Pacquiao said that the VFA, which allows the presence of American troops and equipment in the country, lays the legal framework for all other mutual defense cooperation agreements between the Philippines and the US.

“Kung bawal na ang mga sundalong Amerikano sa ating bansa, mawawalan na rin ng katuturan ang iba pang kasunduan dahil papaano nga naman nila tayo matutulungan kung bawal naman silang tumuntong sa ating bansa?” Pacquiao said.

Instead of scrapping the VFA, Pacquiao said that the government should consider the possibility of renegotiating the terms of the agreement and all other defense and security pacts with the US.

“If we are not happy with the VFA, we should at least try to bring the US to the table and find a solution to our concerns instead of just throwing it out the window. Mas maigi sigurong pag-isipan muna natin itong mabuti,” Pacquaio said.  

Pacquiao noted that aside from the fact that he considers the US as his second home as it provided so many life-changing opportunities for him, it has also contributed generously to make life better for his constituents in the Soccsksargen region.

Aside from building several highways especially in General Santos City, it was also the US, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), that built the General Santos International Airport which is considered as Mindanao’s biggest airport.

And while he agrees with the observation that some actions made by the US government may have strained US-Philippines bilateral ties, Pacquiao said there are more good reasons for the Philippines to maintain its friendship with the US.

Apart from defense and security cooperation, the US has been a valuable trade partner. Goods and services traded by the US with the Philippines totaled an estimated $29.6 billion in 2017. Total exports were $11.5 billion and imports were $18.1 billion.  

American  exports of Goods and Services to the Philippines supported an estimated 58,000 jobs in 2015.

Pacquiao said that the US has also been at the forefront in assisting the Philippines in a series of natural and man-made calamities. It has provided over $143 million in assistance in relief and recovery efforts after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) devastated the country in 2013.