Duterte has announced a plan to terminate the VFA, a 1998 pact that allows Filipino and American soldiers to hold joint drills in the Philippines, as a response to the cancellation of the US visa of his political ally Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.?
King Rodriguez/Presidential Photo
Duterte’s VFA decision not on a whim – Palace
Evelyn Macairan, Artemio Dumlao, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States was not made on a whim, Malacañang insisted yesterday as it claimed that the move was impelled by “a series of disrespectful acts” by some American senators.?

Duterte has announced a plan to terminate the VFA, a 1998 pact that allows Filipino and American soldiers to hold joint drills in the Philippines, as a response to the cancellation of the US visa of his political ally Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.?

Dela Rosa, who as national police chief had implemented the administration’s bloody anti-narcotics campaign, has said he would ask Duterte to just let the issue pass but admitted that the final decision on the VFA lies with the President. ?

Critics have chided Duterte for his readiness to drop a bilateral defense agreement because of a personal issue.

 But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo claimed that the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa was not the only reason behind it. ?“The cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an accumulation, a series of disrespectful acts by some of the US senators,” Panelo said at a press briefing. “It’s not, as expressed by some, a decision on a whim. It is a studied response to acts the President deems to be not only an intrusion but an assault to the sovereignty of this country.” ?He cited four developments that prompted Duterte to call for the scrapping of the VFA – the demand of some American senators to release detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima; the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the introduction of a US national budget provision that barred individuals behind De Lima’s detention from entering the US and the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s US visa. ?The US Senate resolution on the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, he said, was based on “a cycle of lies peddled by critics and detractors of the President.”?US Senate Resolution 142 condemned the Philippine government for the “arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political leaders who exercise their rights to freedom of expression” and called for the immediate release of De Lima, who was arrested and detained in 2017 over drug-related charges. The senator claimed the charges against her are part of “political persecution” against critics of the administration. ?Panelo said Duterte sees the American senators’ demand to release De Lima as “an intrusion and an insult to the judiciary system of this country.”?He also described as “disrespect” the introduction of a US national budget amendment that banned Philippine officials behind De Lima’s detention from the US. Duterte retaliated by banning three American senators – Richard Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Markey of Massachusetts – from entry to the Philippines. ?“To those who are thinking that this is a rushed judgment, let me remind them that this President is a tactical and thinking President who has never lost an election and who has tread a path that ordinary mortals, as well as even those pseudo-intellectuals, have not tread,” Panelo said, adding that the US should have stated its reasons behind the entry ban and the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa “as a matter of courtesy between countries who are allied.” ?

Very special privilege?Panelo pointed out that the VFA is “a special grant of privilege agreement” because under the pact, the Philippines cannot assume jurisdiction over crimes committed by American military personnel unless a particular crime is of particular importance to the Philippines.

It also exempts American soldiers from visa requirements and allows US aircraft and vessels to move around the country without restrictions.?“This is a very special privilege granted to the US military personnel, ships and aircraft which are not given to the counterparts of this country,” Panelo said as he assured the public that the termination of the VFA would not lead to the release of American serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of killing transgender Jennifer Laude in Olongapo in 2014.?He also downplayed warnings that the US may cancel other treaties with the Philippines. “That’s in the realm of speculation. Number two, I think the treaties benefit more the United States than the Philippines. Strategically, the US needs to be in any part of the world to secure itself from its perceived enemies.”

Panelo reiterated that the President does not need the Senate’s concurrence when terminating treaties.?“Since it’s an executive agreement, and even the US considers it one, then there is no need for a concurrence by the Senate. Moreover, the Constitution does not say that it requires a concurrence by the Senate with respect to termination of executive agreements and, for that matter, treaties,” he explained.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he has been instructed to expand the scope of the simple study on the possible VFA termination to make it more thorough and to include in their comprehensive and in-depth impact assessment the “wisdom of the executive action” terminating the agreement.

“We have just been instructed today to expand the scope of our study to include a preliminary impact assessment on the possible termination of the VFA,” said Guevarra.

The Department of Justice was supposed to submit its memo on the study to Duterte yesterday.

“It is my understanding that the President has threatened, but has not given an order, to terminate the VFA. That’s why his office has requested us to study the potential impact of such termination,” Guevarra added.

He also said the implication on security, economic and environmental aspects of the VFA would be considered in the comprehensive study, as well as the impact of its termination on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which is a supplemental agreement.

Stay retired?Panelo brushed aside former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario’s call for Duterte to attend the US-ASEAN summit this March. Del Rosario has said the summit would be an opportunity for Duterte to convey his expectations of the ties between Manila and Washington.?“I suggest he stays retired. The President knows what he is doing. He doesn’t need advice from those who have failed in their term as government officials, especially from the one who lost the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese government,” Panelo said.?“These issues can always be brought up between countries that are affected by it. You don’t need a special summit for that,” he added. ?Del Rosario was the foreign secretary when the Philippines challenged China’s expansive maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea in 2013. A Hague-based arbitral court ruled in favor of the Philippines and voided China’s claims three years later but the Chinese government has refused to recognize the ruling.

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