Cabinet cluster considers VFA review, not termination

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    STATE experts share the view of several senators that a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States is better than terminating the executive agreement between the two countries.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra yesterday said the Cabinet cluster on peace, justice and security has included the assessment of the VFA impact on the country’s security as one of the choices it will recommend to President Duterte.

    Guevarra said the cluster met last Friday to discuss the President’s plan to terminate the PH-US executive agreement that allows and sets the guidelines on the conduct of joint training exercises and maneuvers between the two country’s military troops.

    “The Cabinet cluster on peace, justice and security already met last Friday, and it considered various options of dealing with the VFA, including what some senators are presently considering,” Guevarra said.

    The Cabinet official was referring to a resolution being pushed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Aquilino Pimentel III urging Malacañang not to cancel the treaty but instead simply conduct an exhaustive review of its advantages and disadvantages to the country.

    “We have no direct information about the comments of the Senate, but coincidentally, the suggestion of some senators to review and not to terminate the VFA happened to be one of the options considered by the Cabinet cluster,” Guevarra said.

    Guevarra said a “firmer picture” of the executive’s final decision will likely come out after the top-level meeting of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces today, Monday.

    “I intend to submit (my agency’s impact assessment) this week. Other agencies may submit their own impact assessments separately. The DOJ report will consolidate the assessment made by other concerned executive agencies,” he said.

    Manila regards the VFA as a treaty, similar to the 1951 Mutual Defense

    Treaty, but Washington considers the VFA and subsidiary agreements, like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014, as an executive agreement.

    The MDT binds both parties to come to its other’s aid if its troops, ships or aircraft are attacked.

    Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that pledge amid growing concern over the aggressive activities of China in the West Philippine Sea, which included the construction of military facilities in seven artificial islands, including three inside the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

    On the other hand, EDCA allows the US to send its troops to the country for extended stays and allows Washington to build and operate temporary facilities on Philippine bases for both US and Filipino forces.

    Earlier, Malacañang directed the DOJ to conduct a “preliminary impact assessment” on the possible termination of the VFA following the President’s threat to terminate it following the cancellation of the US visa of his close ally, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.