He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is still waiting for official directive from Malacañang.
Presidential Photo/File
Lorenzana refutes Panelo over notice of VFA termination
Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - February 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — There was no order from President Duterte to submit the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to Washington, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday, calling the announcement – made late Friday by the presidential spokesman – fake news.

“That is not accurate news. No formal notification yet according to (Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea),” Lorenzana clarified.

He said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is still waiting for official directive from Malacañang.

Last Friday, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said President Duterte was bent on abrogating the VFA and has instructed Medialdea to tell Locsin to immediately submit to the US a formal notification of VFA termination.

Asked about the matter, Lorenzana said no such order has been issued so far.

“This is fake news,” he told reporters, noting that Locsin has not received any directive. He said Medialdea himself, when told of the supposed presidential order, blurted out, “None, nada, zilch, awan, wala, anggapo.”

Reacting to the apparent inconsistency, Panelo said what Lorenzana meant was the executive secretary has not yet received such instruction from the President.

He said Medialdea supposedly confirmed that he has not received official instruction on the matter.

Duterte demanded the abrogation of the VFA some two weeks ago in response to the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a close ally and chief enforcer of the administration’s bloody war on drugs when he was police chief.

A source told The STAR that Locsin has summoned Manila’s ambassador to the US to return as soon as possible. It was not clear, however, if the order for Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez to return was in connection with President Duterte’s supposed instruction that a notice of termination of the VFA be submitted immediately to Washington.

“(President Duterte) is instructing the ES (executive secretary) to tell SFA (secretary of foreign affairs) to send the notice of termination to the US government,” Panelo said in a text message to reporters.

Panelo has not provided updates on the development as of press time yesterday.

Duterte’s renewed demand for the scrapping of the VFA came as he was preparing to have a phone conversation “soon” with US President Donald Trump. Malacañang has not revealed the date or the agenda of the phone conversation with Trump.

Panelo also said he was not sure whether it was Duterte or Trump who asked for the phone call.

At the Senate hearing on the review of the VFA last week, Locsin said he has not sent a notice of termination because he is still awaiting directive from the President.

Under the two-decade-old military pact between the Philippines and the US, the VFA can be terminated via a written notice from either of the parties. Expiration will come 180 days from the time one party notifies the other.

The President has been vocal against the move of the US Senate to include a provision in the US 2020 budget calling for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima and barring Philippine officials involved in her prosecution and detention from entering the US.

Meanwhile, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said his panel will continue its inquiry into the impact of terminating the VFA on defense spending.

Pimentel chairs the Senate committee on foreign affairs.

Pimentel presided over the first Senate hearing on VFA abrogation during which Locsin admitted that abrogating the VFA would render the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) “nothing but pieces of paper.”

Pimentel admitted that Locsin does not have any choice but to follow the instruction of the President. 

He also downplayed apprehension raised by Senate President Vicente Sotto III that scrapping VFA would make the Philippines a “pushover” among Southeast Asian countries with claims in the South China Sea. Pimentel said that as long as the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US is in force, the Philippines will remain assured of protection from a powerful ally.  –  Cecille Suerte Felipe, Robertzon Ramirez

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