World

Trump: Philippines ending military pact will save US money

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed concerns about the Philippines cancelling a major military accord, saying the decision would save Americans money.

The 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) created a legal framework for the presence of US troops in the Philippines and for organising joint military exercises.

Manila announced its decision on Tuesday - a move the US embassy in the Philippines called a "serious step" - touching off a six-month countdown to the end of the deal.

"If they would like to do that, that's fine, we'll save a lot of money," Mr Trump told reporters at the White House, touting his "very good relationship" with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Famously outspoken, Mr Duterte has threatened since his 2016 election to put an end to the Filipino-American alliance, with an eye toward cultivating relationships with Russia or China instead.

He specifically mentioned a desire to do away with the VFA again in January, after the US cancelled the travel visa of senator and former national police chief Ronald Dela Rosa.

The VFA is divisive in the Philippines, with leftist and nationalist critics arguing it guarantees preferential treatment for US service members accused of crimes.

COMPROMISE

Its defenders say ending the agreement would compromise the South-east Asian nation's ability to defend itself and undermine the US goal of containing Beijing's ambitions in the South China Sea.

In stark contrast to Mr Trump, Washington's top military officer in Asia-Pacific Admiral Philip Davidson said he hoped Mr Duterte's decision would be rethought.

Admiral Davidson, speaking at an event in Sydney, insisted the move would hamper military operations in Mr Duterte's home island of Mindanao - where separatist and Islamist violence has killed some 100,000 people.

Admiral Davidson also said China is threatening the sovereignty of small Pacific Islands and undermining the region's stability.

He said the US "was all in" to counter China in the Pacific. - AFP, REUTERS

WORLD