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US blasts VFA termination

Defense chief says move in wrong direction

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the decision of the Philippines to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States “would be a move in the wrong direction.”

US blasts VFA termination
Defense Secretary Mark Esper
READ: Duterte to Trump: No to VFA, period

Esper said the termination, set to take effect in 180 days, runs counter to bilateral efforts with the Philippines and collective efforts with regional allies to push China toward abiding by international norms in the South China Sea.

“As we try to bolster our presence and compete with [China] in this era of great-power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction, again for the long-standing relationship we’ve had with the Philippines, for their strategic location, for the ties between our peoples and our countries,” Esper said.

A senior Trump administration official echoed Esper’s remarks.

“We are disappointed by the decision of the government of the Philippines,” the official said in a statement Tuesday.

“The United States shares a long history with the government and people of the Philippines and recognizes that regional and global security is best served through the strong partnership that is enabled by the Visiting Forces Agreement,” the official added. “We will continue to work with our Philippine government partners to strengthen this relationship in a way that benefits both our countries.”

Esper spoke to reporters onboard a flight to Europe on Tuesday, hours after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered that the US government be notified of his decision to abrogate the agreement.

“We just got the notification late last night. We have to digest it. We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles. I’m going to hear from my commanders. But you know, in my view, it’s unfortunate that they would make this move. As you all know, as some of you know, I was just there,” said Esper who visited Manila in November 2019.

In Manila, Esper had urged the Southeast Asian governments to be more assertive of their sovereign rights against China’s use of coercion and intimidation to advance its national interests.

The Palace said Esper’s remarks were to be expected.

“Such a commentary is expected given that the VFA favors the US and its abrogation affects its global strategic defensive positioning,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

The Palace official also insisted that the Philippines should strengthen its own defense capabilities, claiming that reliance on another country would weaken its security mechanisms.

“We must stand on our own and put a stop to being a parasite to another country in protecting our independence and sovereignty,” Panelo said.

“From our point of view, the decision to terminate the VFA is a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago,” he added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Felimon Santos said almost half of the 318 military activities to be held in the country this year would be affected by the VFA’s termination.

Appearing before the Commission on Appointments’ committee on national defense, Santos said that 10 of the activities are major exercises.

Santos acknowledged that the termination of the VFA would affect rescue and relief operations during disasters, but said the AFP is preparing stop-gap measures to deal the absence of American help during these times.

Santos said these measures include forging bilateral agreements with other allied countries such as Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. He added that the Philippines has an existing mutual defense agreement with Australia.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that the ties between the Philippines and US with the VFA cancellation will become weaker.

He said the US has given assistance to the Philippines through the VFA in the form of aid in intelligence activities in Mindanao, disaster relief operations, weapons upgrading and military training.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said nothing much can be done now but do a 180-day countdown.

“What is certain is that the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned,” Lacson said.

He said there would no longer be a sharing of intelligence in the fight against domestic and foreign terrorism, and no more US military aid and financing that accounts for a good 52 percent of what they extend to the whole Asia-Pacific region.

“That may not include other intangible economic benefits and security from external threats in the West Philippine Sea, as well as humanitarian aid in times of disasters, epidemics and other crises,” Lacson added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the military pact following the revocation of the US visa of his ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa.

Six administration allies in the Senate backtracked and clarified that they were abstaining from voting on an earlier Senate resolution urging the President to rethink his plan to terminate the VFA.

The senators who said they would abstain from voting on the resolution are Senators Imee Marcos, Pia Cayetano and Cynthia Villar, all of the Nacionalista Party, Christopher Go, and Francis Tolentino.

The Department of Justice on Wednesday said the President acted within the ambit of the Constitution when he ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the 1987 Constitution does not require Senate concurrence in terminating treaties and other international agreements.

Guevarra said the Senate may challenge the constitutionality of the VFA termination but the Supreme Court will likely refuse to resolve it considering that the issues involve a political question.

According to Guevarra, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the concurrence of the Senate when it comes to termination of treaties.

“Although a treaty is considered part of the law of the land, it does not belong to the class of ordinary statutes that pass through the entire legislative process; i.e., its abrogation is not similar to the repeal of an ordinary statute,” he said.

Guevarra made the statement after some senators said they might raise the matter of the abrogation of the VFA before the Supreme Court.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III had said they do not intend to challenge President Duterte’s order to terminate the treaty but to determine if the chamber’s concurrence is needed in abrogating the treaty.

READ: Locsin warns vs. VFA termination, pushes review

READ: With or without VFA, Pinoys can live—Koko

READ: VFA sparks confusion at Palace

READ: DOJ-led unit to assess VFA termination

Topics: Mark Esper , Visiting Forces Agreement , South China Sea
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