Lorenzana says Duterte did not consult Cabinet ending war games with US
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted on Wednesday President Rodrigo Duterte did not consult the Cabinet members in some pronouncements, including ending joint military exercises between the Philippines and the United States.
Lorenzana made the statement during his confirmation hearing as defense chief by the Commission on Appointments in the Senate on Wednesday.
"I really don’t know because the President has been issuing statements without consulting the Cabinet," he said when asked by Senator Franklin Drilon why the Duterte government would terminate war games with the US if the Filipino soldiers were benefiting from these.
Lorenzana admitted the annual Balikatan and other military exercises with the US have been beneficial to Filipino troopers.
"It benefits our troops also. I remember I was a captain in the military in 1991 during the first Balikatan. Because they left the bases there was no Balikatan until the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) was signed in 1998. Our soldiers, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) are telling us that yes, they do benefit on the Balikatan. On the other hand, I believe the US benefits more in these exercises than us," Lorenzana said.
"As of now, there is no decision to suspend training next year, the VFA still on, everything here is going," he added.
He said if Duterte is intent on what he was telling media, he would recommend "scaling down of the exercises next year" and concentrate on training with the US involving human assistance and disaster response and counter-terrorism.
Duterte earlier said joint exercises between Filipino and American forces early this month would be the last under his six-year administration.
Duterte also ordered the military not to join in the US patrol in the disputed South China Sea and for American forces to leave Mindanao.
Lorenzana said he asked the president for guidance as far as US forces are concerned.
"I asked him to give guidance on the VFA, the US troops in Mindanao, the exercises next year, and the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement). He told me to present these during a Cabinet meeting next month, I think November 4 or 7," he said.
Lorenzana said he is preparing for the presentation because "he (Duterte) said I would need the inputs from the Cabinet to make the decision."
As far as Duterte's statement to open up more with China and possibility of holding military exercises with them, Lorenzana said "the way I read the president is that we are not actually veering away from the US and inking a treaty alliance with the Chinese."
"What he wanted to do is to expand our sources of materials, maybe some investment. And China is trying to give us a very generous offers. That is why part of the mission that I will do ? and I will join them tomorrow in Beijing ? is to look at some of the equipment the Chinese defense ministry will be showing me," he said.
Lorenzana would be joining Duterte in China who is on a four-day state visit. Celerina Monte/DMS