Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. warned Thursday there would be serious consequences for the Philippines if it terminates its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.
At a Senate hearing on the agreement, Locsin said the VFA has served as a deterrent to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea; facilitated assistance during disasters, helped the Philippine military modernize and combat terrorism, and promoted economic ties with the United States and its allies.
READ: Senate to ask Duterte to reconsider revoking VFA
He pushed for a review, rather than a termination of the agreement.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact Philippine defense and security arrangements as well as the overall bilateral relations with the US and perhaps even at the sub-regional and multilateral level.
Our contribution to regional defense is anchored on our military alliance with the world’s last superpower,” Locsin said.
Angered by the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, the President last month ordered that the process of terminating the VFA begin.
READ: Process to end VFA pact with US on—Palace
“At this point, I think, a vigorous review of Visiting Forces Agreement is called for,” Locsin said.
“There is value in revisiting the VFA to address issues of sovereignty such as jurisdiction and custody and early resumption of clarificatory talks should serve as basis, as well as a jump off point for a review of the VFA,” he said.
He said there are irritants that need to be addressed and the the DFA has asked the US to clarify certain items pertaining to the VFA to avoid any issues in its implementation.
Locsin also told the senators that if the VFA is terminated, it would also mean the end of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States.
In response to a question from Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Locsin said the DFA was not consulted when the President said the VFA would be terminated. He said, however, that this was the President’s prerogative as commander in chief and chief architect of foreign policy.
Locsin said President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to do so was “valid” as the cancellation of a Philippine senator’s visa was a “sovereign insult” to the Philippines.
Locsin said he has already prepared the notice of termination but has yet to send it to the US as he is waiting for President Duterte’s order.
Earlier, the President said he would terminate the VFA if the US would not restore Dela Rosa’s canceled visa.
At the same hearing, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Philippines does not need the VFA with the United States “indefinitely.”
Senator Richard Gordon asked Lorenzana if it would be in the country’s interest to cancel the VFA now.
“I think our long term interest is to be self-sufficient in our defense, we should have at least a minimum deterrent capability,” Lorenzana said.
“Now whether we need the VFA indefinitely, I think we don’t need the VFA indefinitely. We should use the interim to build up our capabilities,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe said if the Philippines should withdraw from any bilateral agreement, it should be done with basis.
“If we are to concur on any executive action, let it be ultimately for the interest of the people,” she said.
Drilon said any treaty could not be undone without the Senate’s concurrence. He said failure of the chamber to assert this power would only weaken the Senate.
“In our system of governance, the Senate, this chamber, not the House of Representatives, is considered as the partner the President in terms of foreign policy,” Drilon said.
And the President’s threat to scrap it, he said, highlights and validates the need for the Senate to assert its role on foreign policy formulation.
“It is part also of our check and balance. It is part of our exercise of that shared power insofar as foreign policy formulation is concerned. A failure on our part to assert such roles is an abdication of our ability and our authority to participate in foreign policy formulation. Our failure to do so will weaken the Senate,” he said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said this is not the time to rip up the VFA.
He said a VFA exit could come later, in a manner that is not rushed, but planned and programmed, and not out of pique.
“Certainly not this time when an intruder has built and continues to build what have become the bases of our insecurity right under our belly,” he said, in a clear reference to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
“If we abrogate the VFA,” he said, “this sharp contrast will not escape our people’s attention: On how we could let the red carpet stay for someone who has taken our land while booting the one who has been on our side in protesting such occupation.”
Gordon said the country’s foreign policy must not be dictated by whim or caprice but by the needs of the armed forces.
He pointed out that the country’s security is what “ultimately matters” and that the VFA exists because “we don’t have a military that can defend us.”
Gordon argued against terminating the VFA, saying that the military would be “all air and no force, and all coast, no guard.”
The VFA between the Philippines and the U.S. was established in 1999 upon ratification by the Senate of the Philippines. The agreement allows defense forces cooperation between the two nations and permits the US military to participate in the training programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The agreement was never ratified by the US Senate, however, as Washington saw it as an executive agreement.
Also during the hearing Thursday, Locsin said an attack on Philippine vessels would trigger the activation of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States.
“Yes, an attack on our vessels will be a trigger to the MDT,” said Locsin in response to a question from Poe.
“Before, it was just verbal. Now, it is in writing,” Locsin said, referring to the US commitment that the MDT will be enforced once the Philippines is attacked.
READ: DOJ-led unit to assess VFA termination
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