By Mario Casayuran and Hannah Torregoza
Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said yesterday he has prepared the Philippine notice to the US government that it is abrogating the 21-year-old RP-US Visiting Forces (VFA).
Appearing before the Senate foreign relations committee chaired by Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, Locsin said President Duterte has ordered him to prepare the notice of termination.
Replying to a query by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, Locsin said he has not yet transmitted the notice and would only do so if there is a personal order of the President himself “and no one else.”
Locsin said he prepared the notice of termination when he was in Washington, D.C. Senators held a closed-door meeting with key government officials to discuss the negative impact of terminating the VFA after Locsin admitted that terminating the treaty with the United States would negatively impact the country.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact the Philip- pines’ defense and security arrangements as well as the overall bilateral relations of the Philippines with the US and perhaps even on the sub- regional and multi-lateral level,” Locsin told senators during an inquiry held by the Senate foreign relations committee on the VFA.
Locsin said he shares the view that the termination of the bilateral treaty must be “weighed in terms of the overall national interest of the country” as it would also affect other military agreements between the two countries, particularly the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
“It has been proposed to abrogate the VFA with the US. It has also been said that the mutual defense treaty, and presumably the EDCA are to remain in place. That is not entirely up to us,” the DFA chief said. If the treaty is abrogated, Locsin said, the EDCA would be rendered useless since it is hinged on the VFA.
“For the MDT, VFA is a substance that makes it real and makes it work. The EDCA, on the other hand, is hinged on the VFA,” Locsin said.
“There is essentially no practical use for an EDCA in the absence of the VFA which is the legal framework for the presence of US military personnel in military exercises and actual military responses under the MDT. Without them, the MDT is just a piece of paper,” he explained.
When asked by Sen. Francis Tolentino to clarify whether the DFA favors the termination or just a review of the VFA, Locsin said the department has “no preference to any of these options.”
When pressed by Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon on whether he does admit the Philippines would be at the “losing end” once the VFA is terminated, Locsin said “yes.”
At this point, Locsin sought an executive session with the lawmakers so he can elaborate on the issue. Because of this, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, suspended the committee hearing and agreed to discuss the VFA in an executive session, together with officials from the DFA, Department of National Defense, other government agencies, and National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon.
Senate President Ralph G. Recto said yesterday a Philip- pine exit from the 21-year-old RP-US Visiting Forces Agree- ment (VFA) should come later as ‘’this is not the time to do a Pelosi and rip up the VFA.’’
Recto was referring to the public tearing up by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the copy of the State of the Union speech of her archenemy, US President Donald Trump.
Recto said a VFA-exit could come later, in a manner that is not rushed, but planned and programmed, and not out of pique.
By Drilon’s count, the deadline for the transmission of notice of termination is on February 22 based on a 30-day abrogation notice.
The 30-day procedural notice started last January 23 when President made the threat following a US government decision cancelling the US visa of a political ally, neophyte Senator Ronald dela Rosa.
Senator Grace Poe said yesterday it is in the fulfillment of the Senate’s duty to evaluate the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) beyond the political noise and assess it on its own merit.
Poe recalled that the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was former Chairperson of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA and a world-renowned international law expert, reminded the Senate body over and over again to assert its position that the Philippine government must “renegotiate or abrogate the VFA.’’
READ MORE: Duterte orders termination of VFA