THE Palace has said that the process of abolishing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States of America has begun, this after President Rodrigo R. Duterte called on the US to address a senate ally’s cancelled visa.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo confirmed this with reporters on Friday, saying that the Philippine government is already starting the process. The revocation of the VFA will be in effect 130 days after the US formally receives a notification from the Foreign Affairs Secretary.
“On the Visiting Forces Agreement will come 130 days from the time the parties have notified each other… so according to [Foreign Affairs] Secretary [Teodoro] Locsin [Jr.], it’s supposed to be parting any time to the US,” he said.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr. Duterte said that he is giving the US a month to undo the cancellation of Senator Ronaldo “Bato” O. dela Rosa’s US visa. He said, “I’m warning you, this is the first time: ’pag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan (If you do not correct that), one, I will terminate the bases — Visiting Forces Agreement… I’m giving government and the American government one month from now, mag-istorya mi, pahawaon nako sila sa ilang Visiting Forces Agreement (we will talk, I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement).”
Despite having given the US one month to renew Mr. Dela Rosa’s visa, Mr. Panelo said that Mr. Duterte wanted to begin the process of the agreement’s termination.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a social media post on Friday that he, as VFA Chair, and Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana are already acting on it. He added that he will first call the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee “because on our side, it is a treaty; on US side (an) Executive Agreement.”
Mr. Lorenzana said in a message to reporters on Friday that he understands Mr. Duterte’s ire over the cancellation of Mr. Dela Rosa’s US visa, as this comes after a US resolution to block certain members of the Philippines government from entering the US.
An amendment in the US’ recently passed 2020 National Budget prohibits Philippine officials from entering the country if found to be linked to Senator Leila De Lima’s incarceration. Another recent US Senate Resolution will block US entry and freeze the US assets of Filipino officials who are involved in extra-judicial killings in connection with the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, and those responsible for the detention of Ms. De Lima.
“I can understand why PRRD [President Rodrigo R. Duterte] is peeved by the cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa because of alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the drug war. Most specially that Bato was specifically targeted. It is a direct affront to PRRD being the architect of the drug war that he started upon his assumption of office. He ordered Bato, then the newly installed Chief PNP, to launch the drug war,” Mr. Lorenzana said.
Mr. Panelo said that the cancellation of the senator’s US visa is one of the reasons why Mr. Duterte will not be attending the US-ASEAN Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada this March.
“That added to the other factors,” Mr. Panelo said.
For his part, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr. said that the VFA is a bilateral agreement that cannot be broken without being voted on by the Senate. He said in a statement on Friday that “The Supreme Court should act soonest on whether the Senate’s consent is needed before the executive department can terminate a treaty or bilateral agreement — an issue raised in a petition filed before it by members of the Senate.”
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said that they are also currently working out the lawful process to terminate the VFA. He said in a message to reporters on Friday, “(T)he DOJ (Department of Justice) has been tasked to study the proper procedure to terminate the VFA. We are doing it now.” — Gillian M. Cortez