The review will include a special briefing by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., chairman of the VFA Commission, said Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations.
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Senate to review VFA
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is set to conduct its own review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States amid calls for President Duterte to reconsider his order to scrap the 20-year-old security pact.

The review will include a special briefing by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., chairman of the VFA Commission, said Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations.

Pimentel said the hearing would most likely be conducted jointly with the committee on national defense and security, chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson. He said he would also seek a conference with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who co-chairs the VFA Commission.

“What has been accomplished (by the VFA)? What were the benefits to us? What were the complaints received?” Pimentel told dzBB yesterday in Filipino. 

“Though we have no formal role in the termination (of the VFA), we just want to have an accounting, what has happened (since the VFA came into force),” he said.

Locsin earlier called up Pimentel seeking to brief lawmakers on the VFA and related issues after Duterte last week ordered the termination of the agreement that allows temporary deployment of US troops in the country for joint activities following the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

The foreign affairs chief has reportedly left for Washington and New York for undisclosed reasons.

Last week, Locsin said the process of terminating the agreement by the Philippines had already started.

Pimentel said with or without Duterte’s directive, the review of the VFA and similar pacts must be “constant” since they allow the entry of foreign troops in the Philippines, a sovereign nation.

Many senators agreed that while the VFA required the Senate’s nod, the President can unilaterally revoke the pact without having to seek permission from the chamber.

Lacson, however, earlier called on the Supreme Court to issue a ruling on a petition filed by minority senators in 2018 to require the Senate’s permission when Duterte also ordered the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

Article IX of the VFA states that the pact “shall 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.”

Pimentel stressed that Duterte’s speech last week lashing at the US for what happened to Dela Rosa indicated that there is still a month for the departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense to study the implications of a termination.“Anytime, they (executive branch) can abandon their withdrawal. They can abandon their move toward termination as fast as we can start our review,” he said.

He said nothing stops the Senate from making recommendations on the issue even if final decision rests with the President.

The senator, however, cautioned Malacañang from rushing to revoke the treaty as it may have serious and damaging repercussions as the country has other beneficial agreements with the US that Washington may decide to revoke.

 

Despite Duterte’s threat to scrap the VFA, other defense pacts between the Philippines and the US are safe, Malacañang said.

“They are still there. They won’t change. We are just talking about the VFA,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in Filipino in a radio interview yesterday. “He (Duterte) did not say (that the other agreements would be terminated). He just mentioned one.”
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.

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. The VFA is more on the privileges granted to American military personnel,” he 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,” he 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 was the 2005 Subic rape case and the second one was the killing of transgender Jeffrey Laude in Olongapo in 2014. 
Panelo also disputed the claim of former Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, who said that scrapping 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,” he said. 
On Saturday night,  Locsin tweeted: “Our friendship with the United States abides on the highest levels.” He tweeted that he was leaving for Washington on “unrelated matters.”

Lawyer Barry Gutierrez, spokesman for Vice President Leni Robredo, warned of the possible implications of the scrapping of the VFA on the country’s security and the military’s modernization program. – With Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Helen Flores

TEODORO LOCSIN JR. VFA
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