Russia defense deal won't affect ties with U.S. – Esperon

MANILA, Philippines – National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr says the Philippines' upcoming defense cooperation pact with Russia will not affect ties with the United States.

"Not at all," said Esperon, adding that the country's relations with the US, its traditional ally, remains "very balanced."

"We have our Mutual Defense Treaty, we have our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in place," he said on Friday, February 17, during a press conference in Davao City.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was of the same opinion: "We believe it has no effect."

The Palace said that this new pact with Russia "will not exclude other relationships."

"The United States will remain an ally," said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement.

However, terms of PH-US defense agreements may still change given the yearly review by the Mutual Defense Board and Security Exchange Board where both US and Filipino security officials are present.

"But there will be some modifications as we go along because the Mutual Defense Board, which is chaired by the Armed Forces chief of staff and the PACOM (Pacific Area Command) Commander of the United States meet every year to discuss the exercises and the terms of the agreement," said Esperon.

Talks about the defense cooperation agreement to be signed by the Philippines and Russia come weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to scrap defense deals with the US, threats which were eventually downplayed by his defense officials.

Last January, Duterte warned US to stop "unloading arms" in Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, and Pampanga, referring to provisions of EDCA that allow US to build facilities and store military hardware in select Philippine military bases.

Lorenzana said eventually that Duterte was merely concerned about the "type of structures" to be built but does not want to cancel EDCA altogether.

In December, Duterte threatened to abbrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US after a US aid-giving corporation did not renew millions of dollars worth of assistance to the Philippines.

But the Philippines' relations with the US is still on a "wait-and-see" stage after the election of US President Donald Trump who has not yet revealed any concrete policy about US military presence in the Philippines. 

Duterte has said though he would "reassess" his threats about defense pacts with the US "in deference" to Trump.

The volatile Philippine President seems to have taken a liking to the bombastic Trump after the new US leader commended him for his drug war.

Esperon gave assurances that the upcoming deal with Russia, like the inked defense cooperation pact with China, is just the new administration's way of widening the Philippines' circle of allies.

"If we can have good relations with everybody, with Russia, then wouldn't it be a better world?" he said. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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