MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte should withdraw his threat to end Manila's Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington over the cancellation of his former drug war administrator's US visa, a former senator said Tuesday.
The VFA, which covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines, is "not a perfect agreement" but Manila needs it, according to former Sen. Francisco Tatad, who sponsored the Senate resolution concurring with the ratification of the VFA in 1999.
"This is part of the security structure that we created in this part of the world to maintain the peace and stability of nations," he told ANC's Early Edition.
"Kailangan bang itakwil na ni President Duterte? I don’t think so. What will it cost President Duterte to say nagbibiro lang ako. madalas niyang gawin yan diba?"
(Should the President turn his back on it? I don't think so. What will it cost President Duterte to say he was just joking, he often does it that right?)
Duterte had threatened to cancel the VFA to protest the US' cancellation of Sen. Ronald "Bato" de la Rosa's visa. De La Rosa was chief of the Philippine National Police and was for 2 years at the forefront of the President's war on drugs.
If the Philippines pushes through with terminating the agreement, Tatad said Manila would likely be "compelled to partner with Russia and China."
"That's the general direction that is indicated. But will the AFP be comfortable with that? Will most Filipinos be comfortable with that?" he said.
A poll last year found 78 percent of Filipinos believe Manila's ties with Washington are more important compared to Beijing.
The US and China, the world's two largest economies currently embroiled in a trade war, have exchanged barbs over what Washington said is Beijing's militarization of the disputed sea.
Beijing's ally Russia and the US, the world's largest nuclear powers, have squabbled over various issues including tensions in Syria, the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and allegations of election meddling.
Manila on Friday said it started the process of ending the VFA. Tatad said it would start officially once a notice of termination is sent to the US.
"There’s still a lot of room to get out of the situation," he said.