MANILA – Saying the Philippines stand to lose more compared to gains, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday he favors a “vigorous review” of the joint military agreement with the United States.
Locsin, who had praised President Duterte’s threat to end the VFA as a “good move,” said it is also important that sovereignty issues between PH and US are discussed and fixed between the two countries.
The foreign affairs Secretary who recently visited the US, said the DFA is yet to formally send a notice of termination to Washington upon a “direct, personal order of the Chief Executive.”
“The DFA at this point proffers no preference for any of these options, but at this point I think a review, a vigorous review of the Visiting Forces Agreement is called for,” Locsin told senators.
It may be recalled that before Locsin left for the US two weeks ago, Locsin asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to “start the process of terminating the USVFA” through his Twitter account.
The 1999 VFA accord governs the conduct of US troops who take part in military exercises in the Philippines.
Thursday’s VFA discussion of the Senate delved into the effects of abrogating the more than two-decade-old accord as ordered by President Duterte following the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the retired national police chief who was the executioner of his brutal war on drugs.
But Palace Spokesman Sal Panelo made it clear that President Duterte’s order to cancel the VFA was not about Sen. Dela Rosa’s visa cancellation rather, it was just the “last straw” for Mr. Duterte and that the termination of the VFA was based on other “disrespectful acts” by the Americans.
“While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits were it to be terminated,” Locsin said.
Meanwhile, as the Senate probes on the abrogation of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Senator Richard J. Gordon stressed that the country’s foreign policy must be dictated by the nation’s needs and pointed out that national security is what “ultimately matters.”
“Is it a national interest to abolish the VFA at this point in time? Hindi naman tayo nakikipag-agreement dahil gusto natin pero dahil kailangan natin. Kung hindi natin kailangan, huwag tayong makipag-agree. But we have to be on our own, he said.”
Gordon underscored the importance of the VFA and said that the military “will be all air and no force, and all coast and no guard” if the agreement will be abolished.
“The people must know that our military has been bereft–leaving us dependent on our relationships with other countries. Strengthen the military, enrich the country. We have to look at the interest of our nations,” he said.
Gordon also pointed out that more equipment from other countries could have been bought when the US military was still in the country, which could have strengthened the armed forces’ capabilities.
“If we were beefing up our military when the US military was there, then we would have been able to have a more interdependent foreign policy,” he explained.
The VFA between the Philippines and the U.S. was established in 1999 upon ratification by the Senate of the Philippines. The agreement allows defense forces cooperation between the two nations and permits the U.S. military to participate in the training programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Since the creation of the VFA, the US has been providing military support to the Philippines in countering threats such as terrorism, and assisting on the country’s internal security operations.
For her part, Sen. Grace Poe registered her strong adherence to the Senate’s constitutional mandate and power to review treaties being entered into by the government.
Poe made her position clear during the hearing on Thursday of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Sen. Aquilino “Koko”Pimentel III, to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.
“It is our Constitutional duty to uphold the principle of separation of powers especially checks and balances which gave rise to the need for Senate action on treaties. Hindi natin ito pribilehiyo lang. Tungkulin nating busisiin ang mga treaty na pinapasok at inaalisan ng Pilipinas,” Poe said.
Poe said the VFA should be assessed based on its own merit and beyond political noise.
“Sa loob ng mahigit dalawang dekada ng VFA, nakabuti ba sa atin ito?” Poe said.
“If we are to withdraw from any bilateral agreement, let it be with basis. If we are to concur in any executive action, let it be ultimately for the interest of the people,” Poe stressed. (IAMIGO/SPH.com)