Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III (right), chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations, presides over a public hearing on the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty held at the Philippine Senate in Pasay City Thursday, February 6, 2020. Also in photo is Sen. Francis Tolentino.
(Voltaire F Domingo/Senate PRIB)
Palace: Senate free to review agreements but Duterte determined to end VFA
Alexis Romero ( - February 9, 2020 - 5:22pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is free to review the Visiting Forces Agreement despite President Duterte's decision to scrap the Philippines' decades-old pact with the United States, Malacañang said Sunday.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Senate foreign relations committee chairman, has expressed intention to meet with Duterte to discuss the review of the VFA, which allows Filipino and American troops to hold joint drills in the Philippines.

Pimentel has also expressed support for a "vigorous" review of the 1998 agreement to ensure that the Philippines would be treated equally by the US.

Despite the Senate review, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo reiterated that Duterte is determined to terminate the VFA.

"They (senators) are not prohibited from reviewing any treaty for executive agreements so they can give a recommendation as a body," Panelo said in a radio interview.

Asked what would happen if the Senate recommends the retention of the VFA, Panelo replied: "It would be the same. They will recommend to the president, right? The president will also study if their point of view is right."

Panelo maintained that the Philippines may send a notice of termination to the US without the approval of the Senate.

"If it's a treaty, you need an approval (of the Senate) but if you terminate it, since that is an executive agreement, it's not necessary," Panelo said, adding that the President is the chief architect of government policy.  

Duterte threatened to terminate the accord last month because of the cancellation of the US visa of his ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. Officials, however, insist that the president has other reasons for pulling out of the deal including the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the demand by some American senators to release jailed opposition senator Leila de Lima; and the US travel ban against people behind her detention.

'Official termination document needed'

Last Friday, Panelo said Duterte had instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. to send the termination notice to the US. The following day, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed the announcement as "fake news," saying Locsin has not seen the order yet.

Panelo, however, claimed that there was no contradiction in the two statements, saying Lorenzana was just stating that Medialdea has yet to receive the president's instruction.

The Palace spokesman said the termination notice may be issued on Monday.

"First, there is no office work on Saturday and Sunday. The president is in Davao. How can he send the instruction?" Panelo said.

"Of course you need an executive document or rather, put in writing your instruction to your official. It can't be just verbal. Let's wait for Monday, tomorrow, once the president arrives (in Manila)," he added.

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Pressed whether Duterte could still change his mind with regard to the abrogation of the VFA, Panelo replied: "You are going to the realm of speculation. Let us allow him to decide. Let's give him facts and then let him decide."

Panelo also declined to respond when asked how the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — a 2014 accord that provides American forces access to some Philippine military bases — can be implemented once the VFA is scrapped.

"It (VFA) has not yet been abrogated. We are jumping (into conclusion). Let's wait," he said.

Panelo said there are no concrete details yet on the planned phone conversation between Duterte and US President Donald Trump. But he claimed that the planned conversation was not initiated by the Philippine side.

"Yung pag-uusap nila ano lang iyun, expected pero walang klaro kung mag-uusap nga sila o hindi. Parang nagparinig lang siguro na gustong kausapin siya (The conversation is expected but it is not yet clear whether they will talk or not. It seems that the US has expressed intention to talk to him)," the Palace spokesman said.

"It's not President Duterte. I don't know if it's President Trump. It could be the top (advisers). Remember, the other side will react because we are abrogating (the VFA)," he added. 

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