Palace: Duterte orders termination of Visiting Forces Agreement

Palace: Duterte orders termination of Visiting Forces Agreement
In this file photo taken in May 2018, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat of the Northern Luzon Command and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson of the US 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force unfurl the Balikatan flag during the opening ceremony of the Philippines-US Exercise 2018 at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City yesterday.
The STAR / Krizjohn Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2;  2:31 p.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to issue a notice to the US that the Philippines is terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement.

In a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte told Medialdea to in turn tell Locsin to send the notice to the US.

Earlier in the briefing, Panelo said that the notice was sent on Tuesday.

"The president directed the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Secretary Teddyboy Locsin of the Foreign Affairs to send a notice of termination to the US government last night and the executive secretary sent the message to Secretary Teddyboy Locsin and the latter signed the notice of termination and sent it to the US government today," Panelo said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Brigido Dulay has confirmed that Locsin has signed the notice of termination.

The formal notice is a requirement for ending the military agreement, which spells out jurisdictional and other issues related to American troops in Philippine territory and vice versa.

Under the VFA, the agreement is in force for 180 days after the receipt of the notice of termination. 

The termination of the VFA was prompted by the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa, although the Palace has said that the decision to end the agreement was caused by many factors, including what the government says is US meddling in domestic matters.

The revocation of Dela Rosa's visa is believed to be over his role, when he was Philippine National Police chief, in the government's "war on drugs", and the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima, a vocal government critic who is facing drug charges that she denies and says were politically-motivated.

Duterte had given the US a month to "correct" the revocation of the visa.

Ties with US to remain 'warm'

Panelo said that ties with the US, the countty's longtime ally and former colonizer,  "remains warm, hopefully it could be warmer." 

He added, though, that Duterte believes that it is time for the Philippines to "rely on our own resources" and ro "strengthen our own capability relative to the defense of our land."

He said that the Philippines "will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on anybody."

At a hearing at the Senate last week to review the Philippines' military agreements with the US, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the VFA was "born out of a mutual need" of both countries but that the Philippines should work towards being self-sufficient.

"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," he said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has been buying more military equipment in recent years, including FA-50 light interim fighter trainers and ships.

READ: Philippine Navy commissions former South Korean warship

It has also received weapons and equipment from non-traditional allies like Russia and China.

US State Department: VFA termination would affect military engagements

In a phone briefing on Monday, a transcript of which was provided by the US Embassy, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper said that terminating the VFA would affect hundreds of "engagements and exercises" between the Philippine and American militaries.

"[T]he United States has about 300 engagements and exercises that we conduct bilaterally with the Philippines," he said.

"What’s at risk without a VFA?  Well, without a VFA, it puts at risk things like these engagements, like these exercises," he said, adding that there is "a recognized, broad value of not only maintaining our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will beget further procurements and interoperability between the U.S.-Philippine alliance, but the very practical application of a Visiting Forces Agreement that enables these activities like port calls, like engagements, like exercises."

READ: Locsin: Mutual Defense Treaty like a 'deflated balloon' without VFA, EDCA

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