By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has so far not changed his mind on the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and United States despite calls for its review, Malacañang said Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President stood firm on his position to scrap the VFA following certain U.S. actions that “assaulted” the country’s sovereignty.
“I asked him if his position has unchanged, he said ‘Yes.’ Ibig sabihin, ipapa-terminate niya talaga (It means he will really terminate it),” Panelo said in a press conference in Malacañang.
Asked what could possibly change the President’s position, Panelo said he could not read Duterte’s mind and would not want to preempt him. “That will depend on the President’s thinking on the matter…whether he will change his mind will depend on him.”
But he said a person can change their position depending on the circumstances. “When we make a position, that’s our position at the time. If circumstances change, we also change our position so we really don’t know.”
He admitted that the President reached the decision on the move to scrap the VFA without consulting the Cabinet. But he stressed that the official family supports the President’s position on the matter.
“The President is the chief architect. Hindi siya kailangang mag-consult. Magaling na Presidente, abogado pa. Kung mayroon siyang doubts on certain areas, siguro that’s the time he consults (He does not need to consult. The President is sharp, he’s a lawyer. If he has doubts on certain areas, maybe that’s time he consults),” he said.
He said the President started studying such an option when some United States senators demanded the release of opposition senator Leila de Lima. Duterte, he said, also opposed other U.S. moves that meddled with the country’s affairs.
“We support him fully. I agree with him. He does not even have to consult. I agree with him,” Panelo said.
The President earlier announced plans to terminate the country’s military pact with the United States following the cancellation of the U.S. visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. He gave the U.S. government a month to correct the visa situation of Dela Rosa. Duterte later insisted that his decision on the VFA termination was neither a joke or made on a whim.
According to Panelo, the President’s order to terminate the VFA will be formalized in a written directive.
The Senate reportedly plans to conduct a review of the VFA, including its implementation, benefits, as well as problems surrounding the deal in the past years.
The agreement, which came into force in 1999, governs the conduct of U.S. troops visiting the country. The guidelines include exempting U.S. soldiers from passport and visa regulations and allowing them to use their U.S. driving permits and licenses in the country.
The VFA also allows the U.S. to keep jurisdiction over its personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines, unless the offenses are punishable in the host country.
Read more: Duterte determined to scrap VFA