Palace says other defense deals with US like EDCA won't be scrapped

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Palace says other defense deals with US like EDCA won't be scrapped
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech during the Annual General Membership Meeting of the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association Inc. at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on Jan. 21, 2020.
King Rodriguez / Presidential Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Despite President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, other defense pacts between the Philippines and its traditional ally the United States are safe, Malacañang said Sunday.

Signed in 1998, the VFA allows Filipino and American troops to conduct joint trainings in Philippine soil. It was ratified by the Senate in 1999 despite protests by activists who claim it would violate Philippine sovereignty.  

Last week, Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA in response to the cancellation of the US visa of his political ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

He has given the US one month to "correct" the cancellation of the visa of Dela Rosa, one of the architects of his controversial war on illegal drugs.

The Department of Foreign Affairs announced over the weekend that the process for the termination of the VFA has started.

Asked in a radio interview Sunday what would happen to the other defense agreements with the US, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo replied: "Nadoon pa din. Di naman mababago yung mga iyon. Iyong VFA lang naman yung pinag-uusapan (They are still there. They won't change. We are just talking about the VFA)."

"He (Duterte) did not say (that the other agreements would be terminated). He just mentioned one," he added.

Aside from VFA, other defense agreements between Manila and Washington include the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a 2014 pact that provides American troops access to some Philippine military bases; and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement signed in 2002.

The agreements were in line with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which allows the Philippines and the US to jointly develop their security capabilities to counter external armed aggression.

Panelo claimed the possible termination of VFA would not lead to substantial changes in the relationship between the Philippines and the US.

"As I said, only the VFA would be terminated. So there is nothing to speculate about our alliance with the (United) States. It will be the same. Nothing will change. As I said the VFA is more on the privileges granted to the American military personnel," the Palace spokesman said.

One-sided agreement?

Panelo said only the privileges of American soldiers would be removed once the VFA is scrapped.

He said under the VFA, the Philippines cannot have jurisdiction over American soldiers who committed crimes unless the crime is "of significant importance."

American servicemen, Panelo added, are also not required to apply for a visa.

"In other words, the VFA favors the Americans," Panelo said.

"In terms of crimes being committed? No (it was not beneficial to the Philippines) because they will assume jurisdiction... there was only one case where we assumed jurisdiction because it created a scandal," he added without elaborating.

There have been two criminal cases involving American servicemen in the Philippines. The first is the 2005 Subic rape case and the second one was the killing of transgender Jeffrey Laude in Olongapo in 2014.

Panelo claimed that the scrapping of the VFA would not affect the Philippines' efforts to protect its sovereignty. He cited the termination of the military bases agreement in 1991, which he said, did not have an adverse effect on the country.

"VFA is more on the privileges granted to the American military. It does not (cover) all other treaties (that) are relative to the security of the Philippines' alliance with the United States," he added.

Panelo said the annual Balikatan military drills between Philippine and American forces would continue. He declined to respond when asked whether it was possible that the Philippines would have visiting forces agreements with other countries.

The Palace spokesperson also disputed the claim of former Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, who had claimed that scrapping of the VFA would affect counterterrorism efforts and benefit China, which is embroiled in a maritime row with the Philippines.  

"He (Cuisia) doesn't know what he is talking about... Read the VFA first. It just provided privileges. Even without that, our agreement with them remains the same," Panelo said.

Asked how Malacañang would describe the VFA, Panelo replied: "It is a privilege granted to the military personnel of the US. More on them than to us."

Panelo could not say whether Duterte's stance on VFA would change if the US agrees to give Dela Rosa a visa.

"It's just one of the reasons. We do not know whether it would affect his decision because his decision was based on several actions that violated our sovereignty. It also includes disrespect," Panelo said.

"For example, the VFA extended several privileges. And then you cancel the visa of a senator without stating the reasons for doing so. Isn't this too one-sided in terms of privileges granted?" he added.
Panelo noted that the termination of the VFA would be in effect 130 days after the US is formally notified of the desire to scrap the pact. He could not say whether the letter notifying the US of the Philippines' intention to terminate the VFA has been sent.

Panelo claimed the US does not need to respond to the letter for the VFA to be terminated.

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