Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to end a key US security pact would undermine the ability of US forces to help the country deal with major disasters and deter aggression in the disputed South China Sea, former Philippine secretary of foreign affairs Albert del Rosario said on Friday.
Del Rosario cited the deployment of more than 13,000 US military personnel, dozens of aircraft and US Navy ships under the Visiting Forces Agreement when Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central Philippines in 2013.
“Other countries wanted to immediately respond, but were constrained by the lack of legal arrangements for their troops to enter the Philippines,” Del Rosario told a Manila forum, where the repercussions of Duterte’s decision to terminate the agreement were discussed.
Duterte’s administration last month notified the US government that it intends to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows the entry of large numbers of US forces for joint training with Philippine troops, including disaster-response maneuvers, and lays down the legal terms for their temporary stay.
The termination is to take effect after 180 days unless both sides agree to keep the agreement.
“What is unfolding before us is a national tragedy, which should be resisted,” Del Rosario said. “As a democratic and republican country, we do not believe that one man alone can make this damaging choice for our people.”
The move by Duterte, known for his disdain of US security policies while praising China and Russia, would be a major setback for the two countries’ decades-long treaty alliance.
Haiyan was one of the most ferocious typhoons on record and left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened entire villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million people.
Del Rosario, who was secretary of foreign affairs at the time, said the US government delivered about 2,300 tonnes of relief supplies and evacuated more than 21,000 people to safety.
Duterte defended his decision on Wednesday, saying that the Philippines can survive and address a long-running communist insurgency and threats by Muslim extremists in the largely Roman Catholic nation’s south without US military assistance.
“Do we need America to survive as a nation?” Duterte asked. “Do we need ... the might and power of the military of the United States to fight our rebellion here and the terrorists down south and control drugs?”
“The military and police said: ‘Sir, we can do it,’” Duterte said.
Del Rosario said that the agreement appears to have deterred China from undertaking reclamation and construction in Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island, 黃岩島), a disputed fishing area off the northwestern Philippines that China effectively seized after a tense standoff in 2012.
China has claimed virtually the entire South China Sea, where the US military presence has been seen by some rival claimants as a crucial counterweight in a busy waterway where they fear an armed conflict could erupt.
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