By Hannah Torregoza
Senators held a closed-door meeting with key government officials to discuss the negative impact of terminating the Philippines-United States’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
This was after Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Thursday backtracked from his earlier stance and now admits that terminating the country’s VFA with the United States would negatively impact the country.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact the Philippines’ 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 in an inquiry on the VFA held by the Senate foreign relations committee.
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 also 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.”
Earlier, the DFA chief hailed as “a good move” President Duterte’s threat to cancel the VFA following the cancellation of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s US visa.
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 to elaborate on the issue.
“I must tell you there must be an executive session…We got this data of the benefits (of the VFA) from previous defense departments. There are different views already about the substance of these commitments, and we will hear that but only in an executive session,” the DFA chief said in his response to Drilon.
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.
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