Military historian warns vs. forging VFA with China, Russia

February 17 ------ A military historian on Sunday warned the Philippine government against forging a "visiting forces" type of agreement with China and Russia, after the country repealed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US. In a Dobol B sa News TV interview, Prof. Jose Antonio Custodio said no other country, aside from the US, can provide the assistance given to Armed Forces of the Philippines due to the VFA He also noted that having similar military pact with China or Russia would do more harm than good for the country. He pointed out that the country's economy is not enough to support the AFP in its operations and its modernization activities, "...and that is where the US comes in." He added that because of the VFA, the US could also immediately provide assistance to the country during calamities and catastrophic events such as when Typhoon Yolanda hit the country and during the Marawi siege.

"We are talking about the amount of assistance. Yung sinabi ko, walang makakapagpalit niyan. Amerika lang ang may kayang gawin yan," Custodio said. He warned that forging a similar agreement with China will only justify its military presence in the country, especially that it has been active in "seizing" Philippine territories. "Kalokohan yung sasabihin ng China. Whatever the perspective of Duterte is, China is not on friendly terms with us. It is actually seizing our territories," Custodio said. "Knowing this administration, madali siyang mag-justify ng in favor of China. Actually baka mamaya, yung status of force agreement with China e, gagawing justification sa Chinese military presence sa Pilipinas. Yan yung bizarre, perverse effect of that basing it on this administration that we have," he added.

When it comes to going to a VFA-type of deal with Russia, Custodio said that it appears to be "putting salt on the wounds" as the US already sees the latter as an "antagonist" nation. "Parang ang nangyayari nito, kapag nagkaroon pa tayo ng heightened military [event], ang titingnan ng US sa atin is that we are enabling Russian presence in this part of the world," he said. "That's making it difficult pa lalo for US to deal with Russia, and making us an accessory to that. Maaaring tamaan pa tayo ng sanctions," he added.

Custodio said the Philippine government should have considered whether the country's economy could sustain the operations and modernization of the AFP before it terminated the VFA with the US. Ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, the VFA governs the conduct of visiting US personnel holding military exercises in the Philippines. Duterte had sought the termination of the VFA after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, his close ally, reportedly over the former national police chief’s involvement in the deadly war on drugs.

The VFA would be deemed terminated upon a party's written notice of its intention to end the agreement, which becomes effective after 180 days from such notification. On Tuesday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced that he has already signed and delivered the notice of termination of the VFA to the US, adding that the latter has already received it.