DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said he would recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte the scaling down of war games between the Philippines and the United States instead of terminating the joint drills for good.
Lorenzana added that there is no decision to suspend the military exercises for next year but the President has told him to make a presentation on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the war games in a Cabinet meeting next month.
“The VFA is still on. Everything else is going on,” Lorenzana told members of the Commission on Appointments during a hearing on his ad interim appointment as Defense secretary.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon was inquiring about the status of the military defense agreements with the US and if there is already a decision to terminate or suspend them.
“If the President is really intent on what he is telling the media, I think I will recommend the scaling down of [the military]exercises next year,” Lorenzana said.
Duterte last month announced that there would be no more joint PH-US war games after the Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise or Phiblex, which was held in several locations in Luzon and Palawan last October 4 to 12.
Suspension of the joint military exercises with the US, according to the President, would not only be for this year but throughout his six-year term, or until 2022.
Duterte said the government would maintain the military alliance with the US as provided in the Mutual DefenseTreaty (MDT) but would establish new alliances for trade and commerce particularly with China and Russia.
Lorenzana said he might recommend to the President the suspension of Phiblex, as well as the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises also with the US, and concentrate on human assistance disaster response and counter-terrorism, among others.
He admitted that joint drills like Phiblex and Balikatan and are benefitting local troops, although American are getting more from the war games.
Lorenzana did not elaborate.
Drilon asked Lorenzana why the government wants to terminate the war games when the Philippines is also gaining from them.
“I really don’t know because the President has been issuing these statements without first consulting the Cabinet,” Lorenzana said.
On a supposed plan of the government to veer away from the US and reach out to China and Russia, the Defense chief said the Philippines is just expanding its sources of materials.
He, however, also admitted that the move would result in an inter-operability issue as most of the equipment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are US-made or made by allies of the US.