President Rodrigo Duterte said he has rejected the pleas of American President Donald Trump to “save” the Visiting Forces Agreement, a military pact between Manila and Washington that Duterte seeks to terminate.
“Trump and others are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement. I said, ‘I do not want.’ The Americans are really rude,” President Duterte said in his speech Monday.
“They are really insulting. Bordering on trashing our sovereignty, they have reached the limit, and so somebody has to remind them,” the commander-in-chief said.
Earlier in the day, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte has not consulted his Cabinet members on his decision to terminate the VFA.
Panelo said Duterte only seeks out the advice of his Cabinet on matters in which he has doubts.
“The President is the chief architect [of government]. He does not need to consult. Excellent president and a lawyer. If he has doubts on certain areas, maybe that’s the time he consults,” Panelo said.
In a recent Senate committee hearing on the termination of VFA, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that he, along with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, was not consulted on the possible effects of scrapping the agreement, which grants the US jurisdiction over American troops accused of crimes in the Philippines.
READ: Locsin warns vs. VFA termination, pushes review
Panelo, who is also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said that members of the Cabinet fully support the President’s move—even though Locsin had warned about the consequences of terminating the VFA.
“He (Duterte) said he will study it long time ago. They were just starting to review it, but he has been studying the matter for some time,” Panelo said.
Panelo said that he will be the primary source of information on VFA after his recent announcement sparked confusion.
On Friday night, Panelo said President Duterte was instructing Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to ask Locsin to notify Washington that the country would terminate the joint military pact that was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999.
Medialdea and Lorenzana denied receiving such an order, however, and it was later confirmed that the President had not given that instruction by Friday night.
The VFA, which will be deemed terminated 180 days after the Philippines sends a formal notice to the US, 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 country.
Panelo said the President is determined to scrap the VFA despite the Senate’s ongoing review of the pact.
He said Duterte has been studying the move after the US Senate demanded the release of Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of the administration, who has been in detention since 2017 over drug-related charges.
Duterte ordered the termination of the military pact after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who led the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs when he was still national police chief.
Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel voiced concern over the termination of the agreement, saying this would hamper the ability of US troops to swiftly provide lifesaving help to the Philippines during disasters.
“We are worried that without the VFA, the US military might not be able to rush in if we need their support in saving lives during volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, super typhoons and other natural disasters,” Pimentel said.
“We’ve been consistently ranked among the top 10 countries in the world most prone to disasters. And we are a large archipelago. It is not easy for us to quickly move emergency equipment, supplies and personnel during disasters, given the limited resources of our own Navy and Air Force,” Pimentel said.
The VFA facilitates the temporary entry and stay of US military personnel, vessels and aircraft in the country, upon approval by the Philippine government, with minimal procedural requirements, Pimentel said.
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