President Rodrigo Duterte late Friday instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to send the United States a notice to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo also said President Duterte was scheduled to have a phone call with US President Donald Trump “anytime” Friday night.
This dovetailed with an earlier development, which Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed to ABS-CBN News, that said the President will continue to terminate the VFA with the US despite concerns it would affect the Philippines negatively.
READ: Process to end VFA pact with US on—Palace
In a text message to ABS-CBN, Lorenzana said: “The President said he is terminating the VFA. I asked for clarification and he said he is not changing his decision.”
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will also communicate its recommendation to the President following Friday’s hearing, Lorenzana added, without disclosing matters discussed behind closed doors.
“With [what the President said], what I think becomes irrelevant,” the defense chief added when asked about his stand on plans of ending the military pact, which governs the conduct of American uniformed personnel while in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, senior administration Senator Aquilino Pimentel III on Friday said the majority of the senators wanted a review of the VFA, which Duterte threatened to revoke following the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa.
READ: Senate to ask Duterte to reconsider revoking VFA
In an interview, Pimentel, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee, said he could not say that senators were for the abrogation of the VFA since they were divided.
Instead, he noted that many of them favored its review, the same stand aired by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
READ: Locsin warns vs. VFA termination, pushes review
He also cited the assertion of the Presidential Commission on VFA that the defense agreement should be reviewed periodically.
For his part, Pimentel said he also believed the VFA should be reviewed. “In my case, just review, Secretary Locsin, vigorous review.”
He said last Thursday’s hearing was already part of the review of the VFA since “we learned many things from it.”
“I will draft a recommendation to be approved by majority members of the committee,” he said, adding he saw the good middle ground Locsin’s suggestion formed a vigorous review.
“Practically, that was already a review—to understand all issues especially now that at first glance, our terms with the United States forces were not really equal...because we realized that when we said VFA, we look at it as the one approved by the Senate,” said Pimentel.
But he said there was a counterpart VFA which was not approved by the Senate because it did not happen in the Philippine territory but in the US—the status of the Philippine Forces Visiting in America, the comparisons made by Senator Grace Poe.
“We saw that... let’s call VFA 1, the one approved by the Senate and VFA 2, the one approved by the US for the Philippine soldiers and military, “ he said.
He pointed out a big difference in the treatment of Philippine soldiers in the US and the American soldiers in the Philippines.
The senator said the Philippines’ VFA with Australia could be a basis for an improved VFA with the Americans.
“We now have a basis of an improved VFA which is our VFA with Australia where the treatment is equal—how Australians will be treated in the Philippines should be the same treatment to Filipino soldiers in Australia,” Pimentel added.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon emphasized that the US-PH VRA existed because “we don’t have a military that could defend us.”
In strongly opposing the VFA’s revocation, Gordon underscored the Philippine military’s unreadiness.
He noted that the Philippine military would be all air and no force, and all coast and no guard if the agreement would be abolished.
The people, he said, must know that the Philippine military had been bereft of military muscle—leaving the Philippines dependent on its ties with other countries.
“Strengthen the military, enrich the country. We have to look at the interest of our nations,” said Gordon.
Gordon also pointed out that more equipment from other countries could have been bought when the US military was still in the country, which could have strengthened the armed forces’ capabilities.
“If we were beefing up our military when the US military was there, then we would have been able to have a more interdependent foreign policy,” he explained.
After Pimentel’s committee started studying the possibility of abrogating the Philippines’ VFA with the United States, Gordon stressed the country’s foreign policy must not be dictated by whim or caprice but by the need of the armed forces.
He stressed the country’s security was what “ultimately matters.”
“Is it a national interest to abolish the VFA at this point?” he asked.
The VFA between the Philippines and the US 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.
Since the creation of the VFA, the US has been providing military support to the Philippines in countering threats such as terrorism, and assisting on the country’s internal security operations.
READ: DOJ-led unit to assess VFA termination
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