Senate, SC should not allow VFA termination — ex-diplomat

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A FORMER Foreign Affairs secretary urged lawmakers and the Supreme Court not to allow President Rodrigo R. Duterte to end a military agreement with the US on the deployment of troops for war games.

“What is unfolding before us is a national tragedy which should be resisted,” former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said at a forum on Friday. “We therefore appeal to our esteemed institutions such as Congress and the Supreme Court to help us resist this tragedy.”

“We appeal to the conscience of our military whose duty under the Constitution is to defend the integrity of our national territory,” he said.

Mr. del Rosario said Mr. Duterte’s decision to end the visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the United States would “effectively upend the Philippine-US alliance.”

“While the VFA is admittedly an imperfect agreement, its termination would interrupt the benefits of the Mutual Defense Treaty with regard to the joint training and exercises, the pursuit of modernization, achieving interoperability, providing assistance during natural calamities and being effective partners in addressing our challenges in respect to counter-terrorism,” Mr. del Rosario said.

He cited the need to keep the alliance with the US ”for the sake of our countrymen who want to protect their country’s territory.”

Mr. Duterte on Feb. 11 announced the termination of the two-decade-old VFA, which the US Embassy said was “a serious step with significant implications.”

Mr. Duterte’s decision, sparked by the revocation of a US visa held by a former police chief who led Mr. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, takes legal effect in six months and US officials have expressed hope it can be reversed or delayed.

Mr. Duterte’s decision could complicate US military interests in the broader Asia-Pacific region as China’s ambitions rise.

Ending the VFA complicates Washington’s efforts to maintain an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of US personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.

Jose Manuel G. Romualdez, Philippine ambassador to the US, said the US is a major country that the Philippines, even China, “cannot ignore.”

He said the VFA is “not really the end all and be all” and there are other relationships with the US that can be worked on outside the agreement.

Meanwhile, former Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio belied Mr. Duterte’s claim that the Philippines can choose to become a US or Chinese territory if it could be self-reliant.

“It’s a false choice because it’s not true that we should be either a Chinese province or a US territory because we can have alliances,” he said at the same forum.

“And under the United Nations charter, collective self-defense is allowed,” he added. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas