Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will be at the losing end if the visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the United States and the Philippines will not be retained owing to the tack being employed by President Rodrigo Duterte, a former ambassador to the United States said.
Speaking over ABS-CBN News Channel, former Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. said US President Joe Biden is not likely to get “intimidated” to hand over payment for Duterte’s demand in exchange for the retention of the VFA.
“I don’t think he (Duterte) can intimidate President Joe Biden unlike the way he dealt with President [Donald] Trump,” Cuisia said.
“I’m sure they (US) don’t want to lose the VFA. I’m sure they want to maintain the strategic alliance with the Philippines but if we become unreasonable, I think President Biden is the type who’s gonna walk away,” he added.
Last week, Duterte demanded the US to “pay” if they want to continue its VFA with the Philippines. Palace later on explained that the President merely wanted to get a higher share of aid that the US, the country’s staunch military and economic ally, had been giving war-torn Pakistan, to the to the tune of $16 billion.
The VFA, which took effect in 1999, provides a mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.
Without the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) cannot be implemented, according to Cusia.
“They (US) would try diplomatic means to try to resolve the issue but if they cannot, then I think we will be at the losing end if they decide to walk away,” he said.
Cuisia also warned anew that the absence of the VFA may “embolden” China to continue with its “aggressive expansion” in the South China Sea.
“They may in fact build a military base in Scarborough Shoal that will enable them to have complete control of the South China Sea, which of course is going to be detrimental to the Philippines and to the other countries that have claims in the South China Sea,” he said.
Cuisia also hit Malacañang’s insistence for higher aid at par with what was given by the US to Pakistan in the form of counterterrorism assistance from 2001 to 2017.
Demanding the same amount given to Pakistan is “not fair” since the latter is under a “much larger threat” of terrorism than the Philippines, he said.
“Pakistan is a different situation. They have a much larger threat in terms of terrorism, we know what the Taliban have done over the years so it’s not fair to make the comparison,” he pointed out.
“To demand that they pay about $16 billion, I think is quite unreasonable,” he also said.
Further, the former envoy said the Duterte administration should not only look at the military assistance being given by the US to the Philippines.
“We have other assistance that we’re getting from the US, not just military assistance. We have a lot of assistance in terms of education, in terms of health,” he said.
“In terms of counter-terrorism, they have been providing a lot of training for our military forces. We should look at the totality of what we’re getting from the US,” he added.