The Palace on Sunday played down the importance of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, saying the military pact was not beneficial to the country, and that its termination would not affect existing treaties with Washington.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the VFA merely grants privileges to American troops and provide them “legal cover” to enter the Philippines for joint training exercises with Filipino troops.
“The VFA is more on the privileges granted to the American military...More on them than to us,” Panelo said in a radio interview.
Panelo noted that the military pact, ratified in 1999, allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over their military personnel accused of committing crimes in the country unless the crimes are “of particular importance to the Philippines.
The termination of VFA,
he added, does not affect “all other treaties which are and relative to the security of the Philippines’ alliance with the United States.”
Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, for his part, said the administration must “fully revisit the decision to terminate the VFA.”
“The VFA is an essential agreement to both the Philippines and the USA in effectively implementing the Mutual Defense Treaty. Without the VFA, making the MDT work would be more challenging, especially since we now have specific external threats as well as more devastating natural calamities,” he said.
“While the VFA is admittedly an imperfect agreement, it would interrupt the benefits of the MDT with regards to the joint training and exercises, the pursuit of modernization, achieving interoperability and providing assistance during natural calamities. If we may recall, the quick US relief response during the
Yolanda disaster was made possible by the VFA. Other countries wanted to immediately respond but were constrained by the lack of legal arrangements for their troops to enter the Philippines.”
“Should our President wish to improve the MDT and the VFA, he may wish to accept the invitation to meet President Trump. This would present an excellent opportunity for our President to place on the table his full expectations pertaining to our bilateral relations,” Del Rosario added.
Apart from VFA, the Philippines has other existing pacts with the US, which include the 1947 Military Assistance Agreement, the 1951 MDT, and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
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The Military Assistance Agreement created the joint US Military Assistance Group to advise and train the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The 1951 MDT seeks to boost the defense and security cooperation between Manila and Washington, while the 2014 EDCA aims to boost military ties in maritime security and domain.
On Friday, Panelo announced that the government has begun the process of terminating
the VFA as ordered by the President.
Duterte’s decision to scrap the VFA came after Senator Ronald dela Rosa confirmed the cancellation of his US visa
, saying Washington officials informed him he could apply for another visa if he wished.
The neophyte senator was Duterte’s first Philippine National Police chief and is known as the architect behind the administration’s crackdown on narcotics, which has been widely criticized over alleged human rights violations.
Washington has long been an ally of the Philippines, but its criticism of the government’s war on drugs earned the ire of President Duterte.
In an interview with RT, a Russian international television network, President Duterte said he cannot expect the US to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty, but he can earn this from Russia and China.
“If I cannot get a credible posture from the Americans, I can get it from the Russians and the Chinese government. It’s because they respect the sovereignty of the country which America is totally, totally lacking,” Duterte said in the interview aired Friday.
Panelo could not tell yet if the President would reverse his order of scrapping the VFA if the US government would restore Dela Rosa’s visa.
Apart from the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, Panelo attributed the termination of VFA to other factors, such as the passage of the US government’s 2020 budget, which included a provision that bars entry of the Philippine officials
linked to the imprisonment of Senator Leila De Lima.
Some American senators were also urging the Philippine government to release the senator who is facing drug-related charges and has been detained since February 2017. In response, President Duterte has barred those US senators from entering the Philippines.
Duterte, who implemented an “independent foreign policy” and established warmer ties with Russia and China when he took office in 2016, also claimed that the United States has been antagonizing the Chinese government.
“America is not the Philippines and the Philippines is not America. It ain’t that way anymore. And I refuse to dovetail American foreign policy. They are always antagonizing the Chinese,” Duterte said in the interview Friday.
The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday said the planned termination of the VFA could affect national security and derail modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Robredo’s spokesman Barry Gutierrez said the VFA is by and large a part of the AFP modernization program.
While Robredo acknowledged that some provisions of the VFA were unequal, she said it should not be scrapped simply because a Philippine senator’s US visa was cancelled.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the VFA has not yet been terminated and that this was an opportune time to conduct a review of its provisions.
“We can say that the cancellation of the US visa… became the reason for the review of the VFA. He was not the reason for the termination of the VFA. We are not yet there,” he said.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Pimentel said the President’s speech was not enough to terminate the VFA, which needed the sending of an official and formal notice to the US government.
He added that the President said the US had 30 days to reconsider its cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa.
Dela Rosa confirmed on Wednesday that his US visa was canceled but said no reason was given. Earlier reports, however, said his alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings in the government’s war on drugs was the reason.
Senator Panfilo Lacson meanwhile urged the Supreme Court to rule on whether President Duterte needed the Senate’s consent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
This ruling, he said, would also be relevant to the question of whether the President can terminate an agreement that required Senate concurrence. Without such a ruling, he added, he believed the President can terminate agreements without Senate approval. With Rio N. Araja