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Government widens scope of VFA review

The Justice department on Monday widened the scope of its study on the possible termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States on the order of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he received new instructions from the Office of the President to expand its study to include the possible impact of the VFA termination on foreign relations and other agreements the Philippines had with the US, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“We have just been instructed today to expand the scope of our study to include a preliminary impact assessment on the possible termination of the VFA, Guevarra said in a text message sent to reporters.

Duterte’s order to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States was not a “decision on a whim” as alleged by his critics, the Palace said Monday.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President was a “tactical” and “thinking” leader who merely responded to Washington’s acts that “assaulted” the country’s independence.

Senator Imee Marcos weighed in on the issue and warned the Philippines could lose custody of US Marine Corps lance corporal and homicide convict Joseph Scott Pemberton if the government canceled the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The VFA gives the Philippines legal jurisdiction over American military personnel who commit crime under its laws.

“The US might be glad if there was no more VFA. The Philippines will lose its authority on the criminal cases if this happened,” Marcos said.

Another senator said the  reason for scrapping  the  Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is wrong.Senator Panfilo Lacson said “I will be very blunt that it’s for the wrong reason.”

“Of course they are trying to rectify that by saying that finally it broke the camel’s back, so to speak. But if that’s really the reason, I don’t see it as proportionate with what’s at stake. Because initially that was the only reason advanced by the President. He threatened to abrogate if the US will not correct it.”

The Philippines could seek military assistance from Russia or China should it end its Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, an official said Monday.

“He [Duterte] did say that we can go to Russia, we can go to China for assistance in battling these terrorists,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told ANC’s Headstart.

“It’s the prerogative of the President if he wants our country to be friends with other superpowers like the People’s Republic of China and Russia, then so be it.”

Guevarra earlier said his department was supposed to submit its memo on the termination of the VFA to Duterte on Monday. The memo would cover “the procedure for termination only, not the wisdom of the executive action,” he said.

 “The legal side would be easy. The impact assessment [of the VFA termination] will have to be thoroughly studied, Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.

Under the VFA, the US retains jurisdiction over American military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines―except if the crimes are of particular importance to the Philippines.

EDCA allows the United States to rotate troops in the Philippines for extended stays and allows the US to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, for both American and Philippine forces, but not permanently.

MDT, on the other hand, assures both the Philippines and the US that they will support each other in case of an external attack from another party.

However, Guevarra spoke of the need to convene the Cabinet cluster on Justice and Security and/or the VFA commission for an “in-depth and comprehensive impact assessment” but could not say how long this would take.

“The time frame depends on how soon the Cabinet cluster or the VFA Commission can convene,” he said.

Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA if the US fails to rectify the cancellation of former Philippine National Police chief and now-Senator “Bato” dela Rosa’s US visa over his involvement in the anti-drug war. With MJ Blancaflor and Macon Ramos-Araneta

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Bato Dela Rosa , Visiting Forces Agreement , Department of Justice , Menardo Guevarra , United States
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