SENATE Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the Philippines would be better off pivoting to an independent foreign policy position than siding with any of the so-called “big powers” like China and Russia.
He made the remark as President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his threat to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States in apparent “retaliation” for the reported plan of Washington to stop sending aid to Manila amid the unabated extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of suspected drug dealers and drug users in the country.
Recto said foreign policy rebalancing should not mean that “we dump old friends for new suitors.” He added: “Our motto should be: ‘Friend to all, but subservient to none.’ In other words, amity to all, hostility to no one.”
“So what’s the advantage of running away from the claws of the American eagle only to rush to the embrace of a Chinese or Russian bear?” he said.
The President also threatened to scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US in line with his independent foreign policy.
Recto said the Philippines must maintain friendship with all nations, even those it has “ongoing differences” with. “We must continuously engage, not disengage.”
He said that one of the “important engagement points is the matter of trade and aid, but preferably more of the former.”
“We should reel in both, from all nations, but always doing so from our national interest. We should only accept aid without bad strings attached, the ones that will not cause dependency, or massive surrender of sovereignty, or ballooning of debts,” he said.
One reason why the Philippines should maintain close relations with all the big powers is “its unfortunate status as a climate change-threatened state.”
“If the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will be scrapped, then we should be ready to fill whatever logistical void in disaster relief that an American disengagement will cause,” he said.
The vacuum will be felt more in disaster relief operations because in many typhoons in the past, Americans have been the first responders, even sending entire carrier battle groups to help in rescue and reconstruction, he said.
“Hindi rin naman maganda na mga Chinese na lang ang papalit sa mga Amerikano. Ang mas maganda meron tayong sariling kakayahan. At lahat ng ating mga kaibigan, handang tumulong,” said Recto.
“In this era of climate change, with its powerful typhoons, we need all the help we can get due to our lack of resources to airlift aid to damaged places,” he said.
Recto said “whatever will happen in the future, whatever changes in our relationship with the Americans,” Manila should see to it that EDCA’s “humanitarian assistance and disaster response” (HADR) component will be retained.
“EDCA allows the ‘storage and prepositioning of HADR equipment, supplies and material’. It is to our country’s benefit that such an arrangement will continue to be in force,” he said.
He noted that in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, the US military sent the USS George Washington carrier strike group, dispatched 13,400 personnel including Marines on two ships, deployed 66 aircraft and 12 other ships.
In June 2008, the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group also parked itself in the Visayan Sea to bring aid to victims of typhoon Frank.