Tolentino 'advises' AFP to ask for U.S. equipment when VFA ends

SUGGESTION. Senator Francis Tolentino suggests that the Armed Forces of the Philippines ask the US to leave some of their equipment behind.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Kick out the Americans then ask for their scraps?

After the Philippines officially sent the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to the United States, what happens after its abrogation was a hot topic during the confirmation hearing of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Felimon Santos Jr on Wednesday, February 12.

The AFP, as expected, supports the President's decision to cut the defense agreement.

But what was suprising was, towards the end of the hearing, Senator Francis Tolentino had "advice" to give to Santos.

"Honestly, General, will you endeavor in that 180-day period to at least request [or] ask the other party, to perhaps to leave some of the military equipment and disaster equipment prepositioned right now?" Tolentino asked.

Tolentino, a supporter of the President's decision to scrap the VFA, thought that maybe the Philippines could ask US troops for their "hand-me-down" when they leave the country. (READ: Senate divided as Philippines sends VFA notice of termination to U.S.)

"Hindi lang naman ’yung container vans or tents or nagamit na pala o boots ’yung magagamit [o] mapapakinabangan. Baka naman makahingi tayo ng p'wede nating gamitin – helmet lang na magagamit natin sa mga future na," Tolentino said.

(Not only the container vans or the tents, or used shovels or boots, but those that will be useful to us. Maybe we can ask them something we can use – even helmets that we can use in the future.)

Hinged on the VFA, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows the US military to preposition assets and build facilities in certain Philippine military bases, and warrants the rotational presence of US forces in those bases.

But since US troops will have to leave the Philippines, EDCA is of no use.

If the Philippines is to "request" for secondhand equipment, Tolentino suggested that this could have "budgetary implications."

"Just an advice," Tolentino told Santos, to which the latter responded, "Yes, Mr Chair, we'll do that."

But during the media interview, Santos said that the Armed Forces will not ask for Americans leftovers.

"Hindi kami hihingi. And it’s their volunteerism kung gusto nila mag-iwan, mag-iiwan sila," Santos said. (We will not ask. And it's their volunteerism if they want to leave their equipment, they will leave it.)

Santos said that other countries leave their equipment after conducting military exercises with the Philippines.

"Kung we are still good to them, [if] they value us, baka mag-iwan sila. Pero ’pag ayaw nila, wala tayong magawa," Santos said. (If we are still good to them, if they still value us, maybe they will leave it. But if they don't want to, we can't do anything about it.)

The Philippines can "live without VFA," Santos said, as he explained that the benefits lost from the termination of the agreement are "minimal."

When the 180-day period lapses, Philippine troops will no longer have access to joint military exercises and intelligence and surveillance sharing with the US. (READ: What will happen to PH military if the VFA is terminated?)

While the VFA, which took effect in 1999, facilitated the entry of US troops and joint exercises with the Philippine military in the country, the remaining defense agreements with the US – the Mutual Defense Treaty and the EDCA – are still in place but will be merely "a piece of paper," as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr put it. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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