By Mario Casayuran
Senator. Sherwin Gatchalian said that now is the best time to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP) as the abrogation of the 21-year-old RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) becomes officially effective in the next six months.
“We are a nation of resilient people and we easily adapt to any situation. With or without the VFA, I believe we can carry on, bearing in mind that we didn’t have any kind of VFA before and yet we were able to run our military without any foreign intervention,” he said.
Gatchalian said that this the best time to consider negotiations with other countries for a better and fairer VFA where the Philippines could arrange for better provisions that will benefit our military and the country’s security.
‘’We must not forget the lessons that we have learned from our past negotiations with a foreign state,’’ he pointed out.
“Most importantly, this is the best time to strengthen our Armed Forces. The Senate and the Lower House are ready to allocate bigger budget and funds to purchase more modern military equipment and supplies. We need to develop independently our Armed Forces to prove that we can stand on our own,” he stressed.
After the confirmation of his appointment by the bicameral Commission on Appointments (CA) as AFP Chief of Staff, General Felimon Santos Jr. told Senate reporters on Wednesday (February 12) that the AFP supports the President’s abrogation and that “we will live without the VFA.”
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate defense and national security committee, said that “the Filipino people are resilient and our soldiers are no different.”
“We will survive, no doubt. We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he stressed.
“But in the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he added.
Lacson also said the abrogation of the VFA affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.
“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he added.
Lacson said signing of similar international agreement would take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate.