Scrapping of VFA to reduce military technical capability

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    THE country’s campaign against terrorist groups will be significantly affected by the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Manila and Washington and the pullout of US forces in Mindanao, an Armed Forces official said.

    However, the senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, assured that the military will survive and continue to operate efficiently even without US assistance.

    “It does not mean we cannot survive with their pullout. We can continue to survive, but there will be reduction on our technical capability and other support system, like medical and CMO (Civil Military Operations) or operations other than war,” the official said.

    He added: “I am just saying that their contribution, if it is removed, from us will result to a (capability) reduction but it does not mean that we cannot survive. That’s why with their pullout, we should be able to accelerate our modernization program so that in no time we can immediately fill in that reduction.”

    The official said the military will “need the support of the legislators” to advance the AFP modernization program.

    “The contribution or share coming from the US (in Mindanao) will be gone so it would be a big challenge for us to accelerate our modernization program because our modernization program intends to acquire or leave no vacuum in our area of operations, “ he added.

    The senior military official said it will be “automatic” that hundreds of US troops in Mindanao will be pulled out once the VFA termination takes effect in August.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs has notified the US about the Duterte government’s decision to terminate the 21-year-old VFA early this month. Under the agreement, the termination will take effect 180 days upon receipt of the notice, which will be in August.

    “It’s automatic (that) their presence (in Mindanao) will have to cease because VFA justifies their presence here in the Philippines, not only in Mindanao,” said the official.

    There are about 250 US troops currently in Mindanao providing varied forms of assistance, mostly dealing on counter-terrorism, according to the source.

    The Americans played a role in the AFP’s campaign to defeat members of the Daesh-inspired Maute Group during the Marawi siege in 2017, particularly in providing real time intelligence information.

    “We could not deny that they’re helping us in our various security efforts, particularly in our campaign against the local terrorist groups, the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. They complement our ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance Reconnaissance) or technical capability,” he said of the US troops.

    He said the American have also been sharing with their Filipino counterparts their CMO expertise as well as medical skills, including casualty evacuation.

    “But we already have those capability, they (US assistance) are just complimentary (to our capability). But with their support, the coverage of our (joint) capability is wider, we have more air time,” he said.

    Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy in Manila yesterday denied that the visit of Ambassador Igor Khovaev to AFP chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. on Monday had anything to do with the scrapping of the VFA.

    The embassy said the visit focused on the development of military-technical cooperation between Manila and Moscow in connection with previous discussions on the matter between President Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin to enhance the bilateral cooperation between the two countries, including the military aspect.

    “We are just doing our work on the way to develop bilateral relations and cooperation between our nations, including military cooperation. The visit has nothing to do with the known recent event in US-Philippine cooperation,” Press Attache Natalia Linovitskaya said in a statement.

    “Russia and the Philippines have their own, absolutely independent course in the bilateral cooperation in military and military-technical spheres. We never been dependent on the third party,” Linovitskaya said.

    Since he assumed power in 2016, Duterte has made known his preference for Russia and China, two of United States’ traditional rivals.

    Moscow has donated rifles, helmets and trucks to the military. – With Ashzel Hachero