Feb. 14 (EIRNS)—President Donald Trump on Feb. 13 was asked by the press what he thought about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) this week, giving the U.S. 180 days to pull its troops and equipment out of the country (see EIR Daily Alert, Feb. 10, 2020). His response: “Well, I never minded that so much, to be honest. We helped the Philippines very much. We helped them defeat ISIS. I don’t really mind if they would like us to do that—it will save us a lot of money. My views are different from others.” He also said that he has a very good relationship with Duterte—Duterte had said the same thing about Trump, distinguishing him from the Congress and the State Department for their outrageous attacks on his country—the Congress imposed Magnitsky sanctions for arresting the former Justice Secretary when she was caught in drug deals, and the State Department lifted the visa of the former chief of police (now a Senator) who ran Duterte’s war on drugs.
Indeed, Trump is distinguishing himself from those raging against Duterte. Defense Secretary Mark Esper commented on Duterte scrapping the VFA: “I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as we both, bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region, are trying to say to the Chinese, ‘You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms….’ As we try and bolster our presence and compete with [China] in this era of great power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction for the longstanding relationship we’ve had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries.”
The annual large-scale Balikatan U.S.-Philippine military operations fall within the next 180 days, and are therefore likely to go ahead. After that, unless things are changed, such exercises would require new agreements, or be cancelled.