Several senators back VFA; resolution to be filed
Sotto said he, together with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Aquilino Pimentel III, will file a resolution recommending to President Duterte not to terminate the VFA. Sotto, however, clarified that they were not preempting the President on whatever decision he will make.
STAR/Michael Varcas
Several senators back VFA; resolution to be filed
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If they had their way, a majority of senators would not want to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States as part of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), preferring that it be reviewed instead, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

Sotto said he, together with Senators Panfilo Lacson and Aquilino Pimentel III, will file a resolution recommending to President Duterte not to terminate the VFA. Sotto, however, clarified that they were not preempting the President on whatever decision he will make.

“I, Sen. Lacson and Sen. Pimentel, will draft a resolution that we might file on Monday. The sense of the Senate is to not terminate the VFA. Review, not just terminate like the recommendation of the President. We are not preempting him, so to speak,” said Sotto in an interview over dwIZ yesterday.

Duterte said he would terminate the VFA after the American government cancelled the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. Although no reason was given, the move is widely seen as a response to the senator’s alleged hand in the Philippine government’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs where over 3,000 drug personalities were killed, which some human rights advocates claimed were extrajudicial killings.

“Most likely it will be referred to the committee on foreign relations, unless they want to pass it immediately on Monday. If passed through the committee on rules, we can immediately discuss it and have it pass on Monday,” Sotto said of the resolution.

“We feel, with our colleagues (at the Senate), most are not in favor of terminating (the VFA),” Sotto added.

He said the planned discussion about VFA on Monday will be different from the scheduled hearing on Thursday by the Senate committee on foreign relations being chaired by Pimentel.

Sotto said Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told him that Duterte was asking about the opinion of various sectors about the issue on VFA.

Pimentel said the public hearing of the Senate committee on foreign relations would cover the RP-US MDT, VFA and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), based on various resolutions filed by Sen. Nancy Binay and Sen. Imee Marcos.

He said the committee has invited several resource persons, including officials of various government agencies such as deparments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense, National Economic and Development Authority, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Security Adviser and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Vice President Leni Robredo sees nothing wrong with reviewing the security pacts with the US, and on her weekly program over radio station dzXL, she said it must be done to check whether the existing agreements still benefit the country or are applicable to the current situation.

Robredo said the abrogation of an agreement must not be used to “threaten” other parties or to “get back” at the US for the cancellation of a senator’s visa.

DOJ review

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday admitted that a review of the VFA is one of the options they are considering to recommend to the President. 

 Guevarra said he intends to submit the consolidated assessment of the members of the Cabinet cluster on security, justice and peace to Duterte within this week. 

 “The Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace already met last Friday, and it considered various options of dealing with the VFA, including what some senators are presently considering,” he said. 

“The DOJ report will consolidate the assessment made by other concerned executive agencies. We have no direct information about the comments of the Senate, but coincidentally, the suggestion of some senators to review, and not to terminate, the VFA happened to be one of the options considered by the Cabinet Cluster,” Guevarra added.

He clarified that while he would submit the report in the next days, it does not stop other members of the Cabinet cluster to come out with their own, separate impact assessment reports on the VFA and submitting them to the Chief Executive. 

“I intend to submit this week. Other agencies may submit their own impact assessment separately,” he added.

He continued, “A firmer picture will come out after the top-level meeting of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces tomorrow (Feb. 3, Monday).” – With Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan

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