Panelo clarifies: PH can be colony of any country, not just China, if it can't defend itself

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Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo clarifies President Rodrigo Duterte's taunt to make the Philippines a colony of China or the United States if it cannot defend its territory, saying that it was a "general statement" which may apply to other countries. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Thursday defended President Rodrigo Duterte's taunt for Filipinos to choose between becoming a colony of China or the United States, saying it was a response to critics who claim the Philippines cannot function without a defense ally.

Panelo said Duterte's Wednesday remark that the Philippines should just choose to become a territory of the two superpowers was a "general" statement against critics of his decision to end the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.

"Whether China or any other country, 'yun ang ibig niyang sabihin. Parang reference niya lang 'yun [China], that was a general statement. Kumbaga kantyaw 'yun sa sarili nating bansakung 'di natin kaya ay huwag na tayong magkaroon ng gobyerno," Panelo said in a media briefing.

[Translation: Whether China or any other country, that's what he meant. China is just a reference but it was a general statement. Take it as a swipe against our own country — if we can't defend ourselves, then let's just not be a government.]

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

Duterte said the Philippines had "no business being a republic" if it cannot stand on its own feet and rely on its own military to defend itself. He then gave an option: "We can be a territory of the Americans or we can be a province of China."

For the Chief Executive, the only enemies which the state must grapple with right now are communist rebels and terrorists, Panelo added.

The Duterte administration has changed tack in foreign policy, with Duterte signalling a pivot to China and Russia and away from the US months after assuming the presidency in 2016. This has translated to multimillion-dollar loans and grants for big-ticket infrastructure projects, which have seen little progress since the government's "Build, Build, Build" program was unveiled nearly four years ago.

READ: Panelo: Nothing wrong with using PH resources as China loan collateral

The government has sent a letter of notice to Washington on February 11 to formally end the VFA, a decades-long cooperation deal between the Philippine and US. The agreement legally allows the entry of a large number of American troops, exempting them from passport and visa regulations so they can participate in joint military drills in the Philippines.

Duterte moved to terminate the defense deal upon learning that the US visa of his close ally now Senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa has been revoked. Malacañang later clarified that the President had multiple reasons to end the VFA, but that Dela Rosa's cancelled visa was the last straw.