The Philippines received one of the largest military assistance from the United States since 2016 with almost $600 million, Philippine envoy to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said Thursday.
“This is because, obviously, there is major concern on the influence that is coming out of the country, specifically of course China, which is now considered to be a competitor of the United States in our part of the world,” Romualdez said during an ANC interview.
Romualdez also noted that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) has contributed to this milestone of obtaining a “fair share of resistance” to make the country’s military to withstand any kind of forces from the outside.
“We want to make sure that our Armed Forces [is] now strong enough, which is very important for any country, for that matter, that we have a strong military, we have a defense force that is credible and that we can fight off any kind of offense that comes from other countries,” he added.
The VFA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the US and the Philippines as security partners after World War II. It is a framework agreement that covers the treatment and presence of American forces in the country with or without war games.
The VFA also makes it possible for the US military to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in combating extremist groups by providing technical assistance and enemy surveillance to Filipino troops battling the militants.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US, a long-time Philippine defense and treaty ally, revoked the visa of his close friend, former police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.
On July 30, 2021, Duterte ordered for the retraction of the termination of the VFA.
Romualdez, however, stressed that it is not only the VFA that helped the Philippines build a good alliance with the US but also both countries’ exchange of information and alliance with other territories such as Japan and Australia under the Indo-Pacific strategy.
This is why, he said, the US is offering help with regards to the issue concerning China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), noting that the Philippines can call on the US whenever needed and vice versa.
“That strategy is now in place. We have a situation where it’s clear that any attack on the Philippines is an attack on the United States. That’s very clear now,” he added.
The Chinese Coast Guard in November 2021 blocked and water cannoned two Philippine supply boats on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said no one was hurt in this incident, but the boats had to abort their resupply mission.
China also demanded that the Philippines remove the grounded Philippine vessel BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal a day after Filipino boats reached the grounded Navy ship to complete their resupply mission.
Romualdez also emphasized the importance of making sure that both interests of the US and the Philippines are well protected, noting that no one should take another for granted.
“I’m very pleased to say that I think that we’re in a very good place now as far as our relationship with the United States, mainly because for whatever it is, the Duterte administration has made it very clear that we cannot be taken for granted,” he said.
Meanwhile, Romualdez said the US donated a total of $20.2 million or more than P1 billion assistance for the country’s Typhoon Odette operations.
Odette has killed at least 407 people in the Visayas and Mindanao regions.
Romualdez added the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is giving the Philippines “special attention” due to climate change. The USAID is then ready to assist the country in its disaster resiliency programs and possibly bring in modular nuclear power plants as part of the US’ goal of having cleaner energy.
“In fact, the group of Manny Pangilinan, we recommended to have a meeting with them to find out how they can generate power in areas where we don’t have electricity,” he added.
Several provinces were left totally without electricity over the holidays after Typhoon Odette damaged transmission lines and towers. — RSJ, GMA News