MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said he is beginning to count the “180 days” until US troops “pack up and go”.
Duterte made this remark refusing to change his decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US even after some senators asked the Supreme Court to compel him to seek Senate concurrence in terminating the military pact.
“They cannot compel me. I refuse to be compelled. I have terminated it. Tapos ang problema ko. Wala na akong problema diyan (My problems are over. I don’t have any problems with it anymore),” he said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
He was firm in his decision to scrap the VFA but stressed that he had high respect for US President Donald Trump.
“I am not reneging on the VFA and I am not going to America to discuss this with anybody though I respect highly of Trump,” he said.
On Monday, some senators filed a petition before the high court asking the tribunal to uphold the Senate’s authority in the withdrawal or termination of treaties and international agreements such as the VFA.
In the petition, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Panfilo Lacson, and Richard Gordon filed the 56-page petition asking the high court to declare that the withdrawal from or termination of a treaty previously concurred by the Senate should require the concurrence of two-thirds of its members for it to be valid and effective.
It also asked the high court to issue an order referring the notice of withdrawal of international agreements to the Senate for its concurrence
Late in January, Duterte ordered to start the process of termination of the VFA following the cancelation of the US visa of the retired national police chief and now Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, who used to be one of the lead implementers of the government’s anti-drug campaign.
Duterte earlier warned the US government that he would scrap the agreement if the cancelation of the visa of dela Rosa is not rectified within a month.
The Philippines sent a formal notice of termination of VFA to the US on February 11. The military pact is deemed revoked 180 days after the receipt of the termination notice.
The VFA, signed by the Philippines and the US in 1998, is an executive agreement that stipulates how visiting American troops should be treated in the Philippines.
Aside from exempting US forces from passport and visa regulations, the agreement also states that their permits and licenses are also deemed valid in the Philippines. The same policy also applies to Filipino troops in US military installations.
It also allows Washington DC to retain jurisdiction over US personnel accused of crimes committed in the Philippines.
Duterte, meanwhile, urged Filipinos in the US to vote for Trump’s re-election in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections.
“And if that was a political move by the senators to win the Filipino votes there, I’m telling the Filipino now, you are getting the best of deal with Trump. Obama was a leftist,” he said, stressing that he would not deny if he would be accused of “interfering”.
“To the Filipinos, if you perchance eh lumabas ito, bumoto kayo kay Trump (this comes out, vote for Trump). And they say that I am interfering, of course, I am interfering. Tell that to the Americans that Duterte is insisting on interfering,” he said.
He said he was interfering because the US government, under the previous administration, had been criticizing his aggressive crackdown on illegal drugs.
Last month, Malacañang denied that Duterte was campaigning for Trump when he praised the latter for being a “good” leader by respecting the Philippines’ decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“He (Duterte) is expressing his sentiment about it, not necessarily campaigning and he explained it,” Panelo said in a briefing on Monday.
Duterte explained that Trump’s principle and “judicious remarks on the termination of the VFA” made him deserving of another four-year term in the upcoming November US presidential elections.
“Sabi ni Presidente (The President said), if I were in his shoes, I would be doing the same and I’m sure he would have done the same kung siya ‘yung (if he were) Filipino President kaya that makes him a good president and he deserves to be reelected,” he said. (PNA)