JANUARY 24, 2020 – The Philippines has taken the first step to scrap a two-decade-old military pact with the its old ally, the United States, administration officials said on Friday, in what could be seen as Manila’s retaliation to Washington’s travel ban.
Salvador Panelo, the president’s spokesman, told palace reporters the foreign affairs department has already stared the process of terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement(VFA).
He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has instructed the committee on the US Visiting Forces Agreement to begin the notification process.
“Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the expiration will come 130 days from the time the parties notified each other,” Panelo said. “[Locsin] said he has already called the committee to start the process. He has even informed, I think, if I am not mistaken, the Senate about it.”
The Duterte administration’s move came after president had threatened to scrap the decades-long pact in response to the revocation Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s 10-year visa.
Dela Rosa was the former national police chief of Duterte who led his flagship campaign against illegal drugs.
The visiting forces accord took effect in 1999 after it was ratified by the Senate to provide guidelines regarding the temporary movement of US troops and equipment to and from the country during training
It also sets the guidelines on handling criminal cases involving US servicemen.
The VFA, negotiated and signed during the Ramos administration, was one of the many other security agreements entered into by the Philippine government, like the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Mutual Logistics and Service Agreement, Military Assistance Agreement and the umbrella pact called Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951.
It is not clear yet as to how the defense pact will be terminated because the 1987 Constitution is silent about it, Panelo said.
Article IX of the agreement, meanwhile, states it will remain in force “until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
Panelo, who also serves as the president’s legal counsel, said there are two schools of thought to scrap the VFA.
One is by securing Congress’ concurrence, while the other is by the president’s act alone.
Panelo also said Duterte will no longer attend the summit meeting between the US and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Las Vegas in March.
“He said he’s not going… for many reasons which I have already stated earlier,” Panelo said. “The other reason was the cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa. So, that added to the other factors.”
Panelo said relations between the two countries were “not as warm as before.” “It’s lukewarm.”
Prior to this, US President Donald Trump last month signed into law the $4.7 trillion federal budget which contained provisions imposing visa ban and asset freeze on known human rights violators.
It covers local officials and other personalities who are behind the imprisonment of opposition Senator Leila de Lima, as some American lawmakers believed she was detained on “trumped up” illegal drug charges.
Malacañang responded by warning to impose visa requirements for American citizens once Filipino officials are slapped with travel ban. Panelo said Duterte will not sit down and watch idly.
Duterte has sought closer ties with Beijing since the start of his term in 2016, despite the ongoing territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea. He said he is not keen on “making friends” with US after former president Barack Obama criticized his government’s drug war that killed close to 6,000 suspects. (Karen Macalalad/MM)
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