The Philippines is studying the possibility of forging a visiting forces agreement (VFA) with China after President Rodrigo Duterte expressed openness to holding joint military drills, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said.
Esperon said a VFA treaty is needed before China and the Philippines can hold joint exercises on Philippine soil.
“We will, together with the Department of National Defense and other agencies in the security cluster, study that. Because if that is the desire of the President, then we will do it,” Esperon said in a news conference.
“So we look at that, how to implement it. And as we see it, we now have to look at the requirements for us to be able to do that. In joint exercises, you must have a visiting forces agreement and probably, a treaty,” he added.
Esperon said he and other security officials will seek “clarifications” from Duterte.
“We’ll be having a Cabinet meeting on May 8 so we will have many more clarifications on that. So if indeed there will be joint exercises, then what’s wrong with being in joint patrols?” he said.
Among the details that will be threshed out, he added, are delineation of exercise areas, especially since the Sulu Sea, where Duterte wants the joint exercises to be held, is part of the Philippines’ internal waters.
“Sulu Sea is internal waters. So they cannot just come in,” Esperon said.
He pointed out that joint exercises with China in the Sulu Sea would provide military presence that could deter threats like terrorism and piracy.
“Meron din ibubunga ‘yan na maganda eh. Alam niyo kung bakit? Iyong area na sinasabi natin, diyan ang kidnappings eh [This exercise will bear fruit in a positive way because that area is known for kidnappings],” he said.
Duterte earlier said that he is open to the holding of joint military exercises with China as the two countries’ relations warm up.
However, the Philippines only has visiting forces agreements with the United States and Australia.
Duterte on Monday visited a Chinese warship docked in his hometown, Davao City. The goodwill visit was part of confidence-building measures to boost ties between the Philippines and China. CATHERINE S. VALENTE