Was there an order from President Rodrigo Duterte to any of his senior subordinates to send to Washington a notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement which came into force in 1999?
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed Saturday President Duterte had not made any such official order, contrary to an earlier announcement by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Lorenzana added: “This is fake news. (Foreign) Sec. (Teodoro) Locsin has not [seen] the order yet.” Lorenzana was in a chat group with reporters, and was referring to Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who Panelo claimed had been instructed by the President to send the notice of termination.
The Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement, sometimes the PH–US Visiting Forces Agreement, is a bilateral visiting forces agreement between Manila and Washington consisting of two agreements.
The first of these documents is commonly referred to as “the VFA” or “VFA-1” and the second as “VFA-2” or “the Counterpart Agreement.” The agreements came into force on May 27, 1999, upon ratification by the Philippine Senate.
Panelo, on Friday, announced that “President Duterte is instructing Executive Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin to send the notice of termination to the US government.”
‘No instruction received’
But Medialdea, in a statement to reporters, said: “As of date (Saturday) I have not received any instruction to relay any message to anyone.”
Sought for comment, Panelo told GMA News Online, accessible nationwide, there was no inconsistency in his and Lorenzana’s statements.
On Feb. 7, 2020, Duterte officially ordered the termination of the VFA after being offended by US senators cancelling the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa in support of Sen. Leila de Lima’s release from prison.
The VFA, according to political analysts, was an affirmation of the two countries’ obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951, a commitment to defend each other—in accordance with constitutional processes—in the event of an armed attack by a hostile party.
The VFA was crafted following the Philippine Senate’s rejection in 1991 of extending the presence of US military bases in the Philippines.
“What SND [secretary of national defense] meant is ES [executive secretary] has yet to receive the instruction. That is what ES also told me last night that he has not received the instruction yet from PRRD [Rodrigo Duterte],” said Panelo.
“I was quoting PRRD of what he told me. If he has not given the instruction yet to ES it does not mean the info I shared to (sic) media is untrue. It only means ES has not yet gotten the directive from PRRD,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he remained hopeful the resolution urging Duterte to reconsider the abrogation of the VFA would be passed.
Sotto, with Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson, filed Senate Resolution 312 on Monday, requesting the president to reconsider his decision while the Senate conducted a review and impact assessment of the agreement.
According to Sotto, other countries may gain the upper hand over the Philippines without the support of the VFA.