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AFP chief Santos admits VFA termination will affect military capability

Armed Forces chief of staff General Felimon Santos Jr. admitted Wednesday that the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States of America will definitely affect the military’s capability.

At the hearing of the bicameral Commission on Appointments, Santos said there are 300 activities with the United States troops lined up this year and half of these will no longer be implemented.

He said the activities include the Balikatan, Sikap, Sama-sama, and Kamandag exercises.

“Since we have sent the notice, those ongoing activities will push through unless discontinued. Others will not be implemented anymore,” Santos said upon  questioning of Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.

“On the training, we are not the only one gaining but the US troops also,” he added.

The AFP chief also said the VFA termination will also affect their rescue capability.

“It will affect our rescue operations definitely. But we have already presented to the Defense secretary our way forward on how to fill the gap,” he said when asked by Senator Francis Tolentino.

Santos said that to fill the gap, they are planning to expand bilateral relations with other countries such as South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and other allies.

“Part of filling the gap is we will increase our bilateral exercises agreement with other countries not only USA. As of now, the only SOVFA (Status of Visiting Forces Agreement) we have is Australia.  With the help of Congress, we will push for the approval of the SOFVA of other countries like South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and other allied countries,” he said.

Tolentino asked Santos if he would request the US to leave some of their prepositioned disaster equipment.

“Hindi lang naman 'yung container vans or tents o nagamit na pala o boots. ‘Yung magagamit, mapapakinabangan. These will have budgetary implications and can be part of the budgetary process for this year,” he said.

Asked if he was consulted on the abrogation of VFA, Santos said he just presented to Lorenzana the pros and cons of the agreement termination.

The AFP chief also said he will go with the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the VFA.

“As decided by the executive branch, by the President,” he said.

After recommending the approval of the ad interim appointment of Santos, the CA national defense committee went on an executive session upon the request of Zubiri.

“I have questions that I'd like to ask which has security implications. And it would be good for the members of the CA to hear about the security implications if any so that we can ask him and he can answer wholeheartedly. Ayoko pong maipit siya,” he said.

The CA confirmed Santos’ appointment after the executive session. — RSJ/KG, GMA News