The Philippines sent the United States notice to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement Tuesday, hours after President Rodrigo Duterte said that US President Donald Trump was trying to “save” the deal.
The notice to terminate the VFA”•which sets the terms for joint exercises and engagement of American soldiers in the Philippines”•has been transmitted to the US, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
“The President directed the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin of the Foreign Affairs to send a notice of termination to the US government last night and the Executive Secretary sent the message to Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin and the latter signed the notice of termination… and sent to the US government today,” Panelo told a press briefing.
The agreement will be deemed terminated 180 days after the US government receives the notice, Panelo said.
Panelo said the President would not consider any initiative from Washington to salvage the VFA, nor would he agree to visit the United States.
“All these actions are anchored on the policy [of the President]… to chart an independent foreign policy… based on national interests and general welfare,” Panelo said.
In a post on his Twitter page, Locsin said the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy has received the notice of termination.
“As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,” Locsin said.
On Monday night, Duterte said: “Trump and the others are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement. I said, ‘I don’t want it.’”
Duterte has not yet spoken to Trump about the military agreement, which he said has not benefited the country.
“We’ve been fighting the communists for 53 years. If America really helped us, son of a bitch, how come we are still dealing with it?” the President said.
The bilateral relations between the Philippines and the US remain “warm” despite the VFA termination, Panelo said.
While other countries might be interested in a similar agreement, Panelo quoted the President as saying: “It’s about time to strengthen our own capability as a country relative to the defense of our land. It is difficult to rely on others.”
Duterte announced the termination after voicing anger over American authorities canceling the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who led the President’s bloody war on drugs when he was still national police chief.
The VFA is the legal framework for the presence of US troops on Philippine soil and is central to the two nations’ hundreds of annual, joint military exercises, which are a major component of their deep military ties.
The pact requires a 180-day notice to quit, which will likely set off a period of negotiation between the two countries.
The US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday confirmed that it has received the notice of termination of the VFA.
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance. We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests,” the US Embassy said in a statement.
“Our two countries enjoy a warm relationship, deeply rooted in history. We remain committed to the friendship between our two peoples,” it added.
An official of the US State Department said terminating the VFA would put about 300 bilateral engagements and military exercises in jeopardy.
In a telephonic press briefing, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper emphasized the significance of the annual military-to-military engagements and exercises to “take place unimpeded.”
“There is a significant amount of resources that had been invested in that bilateral relationship, and putting at risk–I don’t think anyone in the government of the Philippines would want to put at risk the numerous engagements,” Cooper said.
“The Visiting Forces Agreement provides a framework that engenders us to do those activities. Absent that agreement, we do put at risk those activities that different services in the Philippines very much value,” he added.
The VFA is divisive in the Philippines, with left and nationalist critics long arguing it guarantees special treatment of American service members accused of crimes.
But defenders of the decades-old agreement say ending it could both degrade the Philippines’ ability to defend itself and undermine American moves against Beijing’s rise, particularly in the disputed South China Sea.
Locsin, an advocate of the pact, told lawmakers last week it was fundamental to the US alliance, which had provided tens of millions of dollars in support, equipment and training for the Philippine armed forces.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact its (the Philippines’) defense and security,” Locsin said.
“Our contribution to regional defense is anchored on our military alliance with the world’s last superpower,” he added.
Duterte first warned he would scrap the deal in 2016 and then repeated that threat in January in a speech.
Duterte’s speech last month came after Dela Rosa said the US had canceled his visa but did not tell him why.
Philippine officials view the cancellation as a sanction for Dela Rosa’s leadership of the campaign in which police have killed thousands of alleged pushers and users.
Since the visa issue surfaced, Duterte has barred his Cabinet from going to the US and has turned down Trump’s invitation to a Southeast Asian summit set for March in Las Vegas.
Duterte bristles at any Western criticism of his signature policy, which public opinion surveys say is widely supported by Filipinos despite the killing.
On Jan. 23, the President gave the US government 30 days to rectify the visa cancellation of his political ally, Dela Rosa, or he would abrogate the two-decade-old military accord.
In related developments:
* Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the termination of the VFA would render the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement ineffective. This, in turn, would make the Mutual Defense Treaty useless. Drilon acknowledged, however, that it was the President’s prerogative to terminate the agreement. But he questioned the country’s readiness to stand on its own militarily.
* Senator Francis Pangilinan said the termination of the VFA would favor China in its territorial dispute with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea.
* Rep. Manuel Cabochan III of the Magdalo party-list group filed a resolution “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives to oppose the unilateral decision of President Duterte to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.” He said while there are contentious portions of the agreement, “it has served to ensure the security of the nation.” With AFP