Press Release
February 13, 2023

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW - SENATOR FRANCIS 'TOL' N. TOLENTINO
13 February 2023 | ONE NEWS PH
THE CHIEFS with Mr. Ed Lingao, Mr. Roby Alampay, and Ms. Amy Pamintuan

ON THE PROPOSED VFA WITH JAPAN AND OTHER EXISTING DEFENSE AGREEMENTS

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Well, the very purpose of a VFA or any security agreement for that matter is to promote peace, not to incite war or aggression. So, the purpose is to have regional security and peace within our region.

So I don't think it will amount to an act of titillating the other side that what the Philippines is doing is near aggression, but if you consider the background of this, there is an existing VFA with the United States, there is an existing VFA with Australia.

So, it's a done agreement, so to speak. I don't think it should be seen as a "harnessing the drums of war," but I think it should be seen as, in the context of promoting safety and stability in the region, maintaining balance of power, etcetera, etcetera.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Yes, which we have forgotten dahil nalabas lang iyan SOVFA

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino] Yes, yes. But you cannot say that to defuse the tension is to do nothing, to defuse the tension would mean that either you do not do anything or you do something that would positively defuse the tension.

So, whatever perception the other side has, what matters is our national interest. So, this is circuitous but then again, the main purpose of this and the previous agreements and the existing agreements would be to promote safety and stability in the region.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
It matters to us because we lack the capacity, we lack the resources, we lack the inaudible to deal with our current problems relative to the West Philippine Sea, we lack the resources in dealing with - in confronting calamities, disaster, etcetera, etcetera.

So, when you talk of resources, when you talk of global actions, I think it will come to that point that what we lack, others can provide and what others provide can either increase tensions or can, as I have said, promote stability in the region. Look at what happened?

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
It's - the VFA should not be - our VFA with Australia and the proposed VFA with Japan should not be read with DMT of 1951 as the backdrop.

So, mutuality, there is none of our concern. So, what is relevant in the proposed VFA, although we have yet to read--probably it would be similar to the Australia VFA--is the joint training exercises, which can be conducted in the Philippines, which can be conducted in Canberra, as well as the transfer of technology, transfer of equipment, and the utilization of their forces when it comes to disasters.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
I don't think so because as early as 2011, the government of the Philippines, the government of Japan already signed a joint statement concerning the comprehensive promotion of strategic partnership and it led to the delivery of two or three aircrafts coming from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

So, it's ongoing since 2011, that's been 12 years ago and then there was another joint statement I think that was signed.

So, these are - these things are happening for the last 12 years and incrementally it fosters the mutual intention of both countries to secure peace in the region.

So, we disregard first the current tension between Japan and China in the Senkaku Island area but for us, I think the collaborative efforts would not just lead to military exercise, but it would even lead to information exchange, capacity building, and maritime security, and a lot of other things.

So, I think what we lack, others can provide. As simple as that. Provided by other friends.

ON THE LATEST PROVOCATIVE ACTION BY THE CHINA COAST GUARD IN AYUNGIN SHOAL

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Some would consider this as 'razo' coercive activities, some would consider this as bullying, some would consider this as a symbol of our inability to assume an asymmetric stance.

So, all of these, taken together, is a diminution of our sovereignty. Hindi ba nakakahiya na paulit ulit nalang iyan?

So, again, last year I proposed joint patrols. Again, with France helping us, with our allies providing us equipment, with allies providing us the necessary inaudible, I think there's nothing wrong.

Do you think China would do that if there is a joint delivery of food supply going to Ayungin Shoal to replenish the food stocks of our soldiers billeted in the BRP Sierra Madre? Do you think the Chinese Coast Guard would do that? I don't think so. If we're aided by a Japanese vessel, or a US vessel, or Australian vessel. So, it boils down to that.

There are some things we lack and we cannot provide because of lack of resources. So, again, it highlights the need for that incident--that February 06 incident in Ayungin Shoal.

It highlights the need for more collaborative efforts with our allies.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
That's part of the joint patrol. Do you remember that the coast guard was just there to assist the Navy supplying?

So, if another coast guard, part of the joint patrol in an agreement to be formulated, would join us I think it will lessen that and even allow fishermen near Bajo de Masinloc to fish freely and it will likewise show the good faith of the Chinese Coast Guard and militia if they allow that.

It now promotes a status quo bordering on, 'friendship,' open lines of communication, etcetera, etcetera.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
The response would be coming from the diplomatic front: the protest, etcetera, etcetera, lines of communication with - I don't think we can reach the commander of the southern theater in command of the Chinese military.

So, these are done in diplomatic political circles but the reaction of our troops probably can be termed as correct. It's not a reaction of cowardice, but it's a natural reaction coming from a coast guard delivering - assisting the delivery of food supply.

So, it was a humanitarian mission although the act of aggression of the other side can be documented, can be termed as more than hostile, we leave that to, at this point, to the diplomatic arm of our government.

So, again, although there is another security arrangement called quad in another area which involves India.

So, it just shows the need for cooperation among allies to have regional security. Ano pa ba yung gusto nating hingiin? Ito na nga iyon e, hindi natin kaya mag-isa.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
We leave that to the discretion of our Coast Guard or Naval Commander. They're well-trained for how to react.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Yes, yes, yes. It's part of the bullying. It's similar to the cutting of the rope, which I exposed months ago.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Unless you would want to have a reciprocal reaction, which admittedly while we can do perhaps might not be that sustainable.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
We still expect a lot of things, similar to this, that will happen in the future.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Well it's out there in the open. I was the one, modesty aside, I was the one who proposed joint patrols involving not just the Philippine and US Coast Guards but all Coast Guards with similar intention of securing peace, stability in the region.

So, with the VFA of Australia in existence, there's no question with that, US no question with that.

The forthcoming VFA with Japan, I think the four leaders can just sit down and sign an agreement or communicate, joint statement that we're doing this to secure peace and stability in the region.

But there's - I mean even if there's no statement as long as that agreements are in place, it can be done.

ON THE CHARTER CHANGE

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
Well, theoretically and constitutionally, Congress can act independently and should act independently.

So, we heard a while ago that the Chair of the House on Constitutional Amendments Committee, Congressman Rodriguez, will push the pen, pencil so to speak, in having his committee come up with a committee report.

I don't know about the Senate the counterpart, what the thinking of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments. But again, for the Executive, it's a matter of priority, we respect the decision.

So, we leave that to the members, to the majority both in the House and the Senate on how they will react and show respect to the Presidential inclination.

[Interviewer]

[Senator Francis N. Tolentino]
But I doubt if it is still federalism that they are thinking of right now.

So, let's see, let's see. I'm not the chairman of the Constitutional Revision Committee so I think they will sit down together and deliberate on this objectively.

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