In this file handout photo from May 2019, Australian and Philippine troops meet for the Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019.
Handout photo
Military agreement with other countries may be considered — Guevarra
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - February 12, 2020 - 5:09pm

MANILA, Philippines — With the termination of the military agreement with the United States, the Philippines may consider entering into Visiting Forces Agreement with other countries, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

In a message to reporters Wednesday, Guevarra said during the meeting of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces, “it was mentioned... that we may consider having similar VFAs with other countries to continue the training of our military personnel.”

Asked if China is being considered as a potential partner for a military agreement, Guevarra said: “More like Australia.”

The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with Australia was signed in 2007 and ratified in 2012.

EXPLAINER: A better VFA? A look at the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with Australia

Commission on Visiting Forces had 'differing views' on VFA termination

Guevarra, a member of the PCVF, was tasked by Malacañang with reviewing the potential impact of scrapping the VFA with the United States, which sets guidelines on the jurisdiction of American troops in Philippine territory and vice versa.

The Justice chief refused to divulge the recommendation of the PCVF after its risk assessment of the termination of the military pact with the US, but he said that members of the PCVF had “differing views.”

He said that the commission yielded to “the president’s sound judgment.”

“Whether we supported the president’s position or recommended another option is now water under the bridge. But one thing is clear; the president had everything he needed to know before he made up his mind to terminate the VFA,” Guevarra added.

The Philippines sent the notice of termination of the agreement to the US on Tuesday, a move that US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said is a step towards “the wrong direction.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. told senators at a hearing last week that without the VFA and the EDCA, the Mutual Defense Treaty "may be compared to a deflated balloon." 

"For all practical purposes, it becomes an extra large rubber for our nation—far more elastic than it can ever need for its purpose and more suitable as a shower cap than a prophylactic against foreign aggression," Locsin said then.

Guevarra said the "termination of the VFA will make the [Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement] practically useless and the [Mutual Defense Treaty] a hollow agreement."

He, however, is optimistic that the Philippines can weather the effects of the scrapped military pact with the US.

"We survived the historic termination of the RP-US military bases agreement; there's no reason why we shall not survive the termination of a mere visiting forces agreement."

MENARDO GUEVARRA US-PHILIPPINES TIES VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 13, 2020 - 9:44am

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.

That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.

Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".

The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.

Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.

Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos

February 13, 2020 - 9:44am

Military exercises with the US wthin the 180 days from the notice of termination will continue as planned, radio dzMM reports, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

February 13, 2020 - 8:36am

Activist women's group Gabriela calls for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 in light of the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement that the Philippines sent the US on Monday.

"Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA's termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises," Gabriela, which has long protested against the VFA as well as the continuing presence of American troops in the Philippines, says in a release.

There are more than 300 military exercises and exchanges scheduled between the Philippine and American militaries this year.

February 12, 2020 - 4:34pm

For Malacañang, the decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is "a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's remarks that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA was "a move in the wrong direction" is expected as the defense pact favors Washington.

According to Panelo, relying on another country for defenses against enemies of the would eventually "weaken" and "stagnate" the Philippines' defense capabilities.

"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," Panelo said in a statement.

February 12, 2020 - 10:57am

Senators are free to bring the issue of VFA termination to the Supreme Court, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says, pointing out however that although the 1987 Constitution requires Senate concurrence on the ratification of treaties, "there is nothing in the constitution that requires the concurrence of the Senate when it comes to termination of treaties."

He adds that "whether the president should at least consult the Senate is manifestly a political question that the Supreme Court will certainly refuse to resolve." 

February 12, 2020 - 9:48am

The Philippines' termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement is a "move in the wrong direction," US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says in remarks published by the US Department of Defense.

"I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as — as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese, 'You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms.'," he says.

"I think it's a move in the wrong direction for — for, again, for the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries." 

He says that the move would affect efforts to "bolster our presence and compete with them (China) in this era of great power competition."

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