Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana explains a point in a forum with FOCAP Friday morning (Oct. 7, 2016). BERNARD TESTA, INTERAKSYON.COM
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MANILA – The Philippines can do without a defense cooperation treaty and the military aid coming from the United States, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said, as the two countries experience “bumps on the road” that call for a “reassessment” of their ties. He acknowledged, though, that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that President Duterte wants reviewed has “advantages” for the Philippines.
Lorenzana said the windfall of the US military aid to the country was “not that much,” estimated to only between US$50 to 100 million a year, which Congress could later on augment with a bigger allocation in the annual budget.
“I think we can live without [such aid],” he told the regular forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) Friday.
He said the US’s assistance to the country’s military capabilities “has not advanced” through the years, echoing the statement of President Rodrigo Duterte that the US has failed the Filipino people.
“I think there’s truth to that statement. We have been an ally of the US since 1951 . . . and all we got from that time until the bases left in 1991 were all hand-me-downs,” he said.
Through the years, he said the Philippines received used helicopters and ships that were about to be decommissioned from the US.
“What we are thinking is that the Americans failed to beef up our capabilities that would be [on a] par with what’s happening in this region,” he said.
The Defense chief added that the Philippine government has also “failed to provide enough funds” to bolster the country’s defense capabilities.
He said the budget of the Department of National Defense represents only 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product, while the Philippines’s neighbor countries allot around 20 percent of their GDP for defense.
Various groups and individuals have warned of a fallout on long-standing relations between the Philippines and the US following President Duterte’s steady stream of verbal attacks against the latter and the United Nations, which warned that the administration’s war on drugs could be violating human rights and due process.
“We tried to assure them the alliance is still there, it’s just the President is so sensitive on comments on his war on terrorism and especially drugs,” he said.
“Every time the US comments about human rights violations, he gets very sensitive to that and he lashes back. . . . He takes it very personally,” he added.
Instead of criticism, Lorenzana said the President needs offers of assistance in curbing the illegal drug menace.
“With China, when some of the Chinese offered in the rehabilitation of addicts, he appreciated that because instead of criticizing him they offered to help and he’s expecting that from allies,” he said.
The President had threatened to revoke the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and had announced that he wanted joint military operations with American forces halted.
Lorenzana said that scrapping the EDCA, which allows access to the Americans in five military camps, is “always an option.”
‘It depends on the decision of the higher-ups. If they say they don’t want it anymore, then we scrap it,” he said.
The Defense chief backed Duterte’s stance of pursuing an independent foreign policy, one which is not too reliant on the US.
“Maybe, we should reassess what we should be getting from our alliances, maybe it is time to go to other sources for our materials; we should not depend on only one country,” he said.
Lorenzana said he has been instructed by the President to visit China and Russia and see the possibility of getting some of the country’s defense equipment from the two countries.
“We will go there just to check them out. According to them, they have everything we need,” he said.
Offers from India, Russia, Israel
He said that ambassadors of India, Russia and Israel have also offered some of their sophisticated equipment, but added that these are not for free.
The Department of National Defense will get P134.5 billion in the annual budget for 2017.
“Is it time for us to look for others for our military defense materials? It’s time. Many ambassadors already came to me, offering a lot of equipment. I see this as a healthy development with our relationship with other countries. They are offering to sell to us, not for free,” Lorenzana said.
“We can also buy missiles from other countries like Germany, Israel and South Korea. We can also buy from France,” Lorenzana said.
But, he acknowledged, US-made materials and technology remain well-known world-wide.
Earlier, Duterte ordered the DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to look for other military markets for sophisticated weapons – with China and Russia for starters. Duterte also revealed that in a one-on-one with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on the sidelines of the ASEAN meetings in Laos, the latter had sounded sympathetic and said Russia could supply much of what the Philippines might need, materiél-wise.
As for the EDCA’s possible crsapping, Lorenzana said, “Well, it’s an option because there is one year notice to terminate it (EDCA). But it’s the decision of higher-ups. I’m not saying we’ve to scrap it.”
Asked if the military modernization will suffer without EDCA, Lorenzana replied, “I don’t think so” adding that if Congress would only respond to the needs of our military “our modernization will roll” in the next 10 to 15 years.
“Whatever the decision of the government, we will follow. I was not part of the people who crafted EDCA and I would love to study it myself. The implementation of EDCA started this year,” he said.
Gains from EDCA
Lorenzana said, meanwhile, EDCA can also give more things and advantages to the AFP.
“Looking at EDCA, there are many things that we can get such as facilities and development of our camps. EDCA is to our benefit,” Lorenzana said.
He said China and Russia have a lot to offer also.
“These two countries are very eager to deal with us. Let’s see what those things are,” said Lorenzana, as they have yet to come up with a shopping list.
He saw no complication in buying Chinese military equipment, despite the festering row between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea – a dispute decided in Manila’s favor by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which rejected China’s “9-dash line”.
“I think we should separate this problem of the South China Sea. Trade is different,” Lorenzana said.
Meanwhile, buying sophisticated arms from China and Russia has its “limitations” as the Philippines has no military relations with these two countries. “It would be a problem,” he said, but if only “small arms [were involved], it would not be a problem.”
It would be “complicated” if sophisticated equipment like aircraft and ships are involved, he added..
“Sometimes the technology is the problem. We would check it out, we will find out,” he said.