In this May 9, 2018 photo, American and Filipino troops participate in an amphibious landing exercise simulating a beach assault during the annual Balikatan exercises in San Antonio, Zambales.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV, File photo
Lorenzana: Philippines doesn't need the VFA indefinitely
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - February 6, 2020 - 12:55pm

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that while the Visiting Forces Agreement was “born out of a mutual need” between the Philippines and the United States, the main priority is having a self-sufficient national defense rather than maintaining the agreement.

“I think our long-term interest is to be self-sufficient in our defense. We should have at least a minimum or deterrent capability,” the Department of National Defense chief told Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Sen. Richard Gordon during the Thursday morning hearing on the VFA, Mutual Defense Treaty, and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“Now, whether we need the VFA indefinitely, I think we do not need the VFA indefinitely. So we should use the interim (meantime) to build up our capabilities.”

On January 23, Duterte gave Washington a one-month deadline to reconsider the cancellation of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa's US visa, leveraging the two-decade-long VFA.

RELATED: Bato dela Rosa says US canceled his visa

The said agreement signed in 1998 allows American and Filipino troops to conduct joint training operations in Philippine territory.

RELATED: Duterte threatens to end VFA if US fails to 'correct' Bato visa cancellation

"I think the VFA was born out of the mutual need from the US to the Philippines,” Lorenzana said, recalling that before 1992 practically all military equipment came from the United States.

On Sept. 16, 1991, the Senate voted not to renew the Military Bases Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

"When they left, all the supplies, spare parts, everything, dried up. So I think in 1992, we had about more than 100 helicopters flying...in 1999 when they came back I think only three dozen of our helicopters were flying,” the Defense Secretary said.

“That is a lesson that I think we should learn very hard — that we cannot source our equipment from just one source.”

The Senate can conduct inquiries in aid of legislation, with the Foreign Relations Committee hearing considering the following five Senate resolutions:

  • Senate Resolution 299 – Review of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement 
  • Senate Resolution 303 – Implication of the Termination of RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement
  • Senate Resolution 305 – Senate Concurrence in Treaty Withdrawal/Termination
  • Senate Resolution 306 - Validity and Implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement Between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America
  • Senate Resolution 312 – Expressing the Sense of the Senate for the President to Reconsider His Plan to Unilaterally Withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States of America

RELATED: Senate VFA review starts today

"[A] careful deliberation of these matters must be taken into account before finally arriving at a decision which will ultimately affect not only the secruity and economy of the Philippines but also that of our neighboring countries in the Asia Pacific region," reads the most recent resolution filed on Monday.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson have since appealed to Duterte to reconsider the termination of the VFA until the upper legislative chamber has had proper time to review the impact of withdrawing from the said agreement.

RELATED: Senators' resolution urges Duterte to reconsider VFA termination

The Defense secretary previously said the Philippines can unilaterally (one-sided) withdraw from the bilateral (two-sided) agreement.

“The termination of the VFA may be unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, and it is well within the right of the Philippine government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest,” he said in a message to reporters on January 24.

RELATED: Philippines can terminate VFA unilaterally — Lorenzana

This was affirmed by Lacson, who heads the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, saying that lacking a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on the matter, Duterte has the capacity to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement without the consent of a supermajority (2/3) vote of the Senate.

However, the senator said that the cancellation of a US visa does not have the same weight as terminating the VFA, urging the high court to act "soonest."

“The Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and United States is a BILATERAL accord that went through some back-and-forth diplomatic discussions prior to ratification by the Senate, after some intense plenary deliberation,” he said.

“On the other hand, the US visa is a conditional authorization UNILATERALLY given to a visiting foreigner which may be granted, canceled or even denied outright, without need for explanation or justification.”

BATO DELA ROSA DELFIN LORENZANA DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE DND EDCA ENHANCED DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT MDT MUTUAL DEFENSE TREATY PING LACSON RODRIGO DUTERTE RONALD
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