Mr. President, as a final statement, allow me to reiterate the following points.
Today, we are faced by geo-political realities, as well as global and regional security challenges, not present before the turn of the last century. The situation then, compelled me to vote against the VFA.
The needs and circumstances today, however, have changed. Today’s security challenges require that we strengthen our defense posture through a regime of cooperation with allies with whom we share strategic security interests. Fostering strong defense relations with partners, through SOVFA, is a good defense strategy anchored on national interest, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the right to self-determination.
I also invite your attention to the fact that Australia is one of the top bilateral grant aid donors to the Philippines. It provides 100% grant funding. Also, the SOVFA contains a unique provision on environmental protection, thus assuring us that local environmental laws will be observed in the conduct of exercises. As conceived, joint activities may also cover joint training on marine resource protection, sea search and rescue operations, disaster relief operations, and other civic action projects.
Having said that, I wish to underscore the directives to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of National Defense (DND), as contained in our Committee Report.
These directives are meant to promote compliance with national laws in the conduct of SOVFA activities; the primacy of Philippine jurisdiction, in accordance with the provisions of the SOVFA; and the protection of the country’s security interests through a strong and well-equipped armed forces that cooperates with allies in the promotion of common security interests. It is important that the executive branch give due attention to the concerns raised in our hearings and even in the plenary debate so that specific plans and activities do not fail to consider our national interest. Thank you.