THE Philippines can exist without the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States but it should bear the consequences if the plan of President Duterte to scrap the deal pushes through.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Senate foreign relations committee, believes the “country will still survive” even without the VFA since the treaty only defines the rules and regulations to be followed by American troops when visiting the country for joint military exercises.
Under the treaty, US soldiers are granted visas and can freely enter the country once military exercises are conducted here. On the other hand, Filipino soldiers are required to secure all pertinent travel documents, including passports and visas, should they join military exercises in the US.
Pimentel said he prefers a review of the VFA, instead of its termination, but the US government must agree to amend the deal and give equal treatment to Filipino soldiers in terms of travel document requirements, among others.
“Maganda sana kung maaayos natin at maipantay natin ang pagtrato sa atin na merong dignidad. Pero kung no way talaga at sasabihin ng Amerkina na, ‘no way, we can live without the VFA,’ suportado ko ang analysis ni Presidente na ang root cause kasi hindi pantay ang pag-trato sa atin (It is better if we can fix this and we will be accorded equal treatment with dignity. But if the Americans will say, ‘no way, we can live without the VFA,’ then I will support the analysis of the President that the root cause is the unequal treatment given to us),” he said.
Pimentel’s committee last week started its assessment of the 21-year old VFA following President Duterte’s declaration that he will move for the termination of the treaty following the US government’s decision to cancel the visa issued to administration Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
After the hearing last week, Pimentel said members of the Cabinet were clearly “solidly behind” the President’s decision to terminate the VFA even as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin pointed out that he is more in favor of a review rather than the scrapping of the treaty.
Pimentel said he can understand the Cabinet secretaries’ position since they are the alter ego of the President.
The senator expressed hope that the planned termination will not affect the two other important agreements between the US and the Philippines – the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDAC).
“Let’s just hope na ‘yung kanilang panig, the other contracting party sa atin, will also focus on the VFA, hindi natin sila kontrolado. We should be ready to bear it like a sovereign nation na nag-decide to terminate the VFA na meron palang sanga-sanga ‘yan eh. (Let’s just hope that from the US side, they will only focus on the VFA. We do not have control over them [should they retaliate] We should be ready to bear [with] it like a sovereign nation which decided to terminate the VFA without knowing that it can branch out),” Pimentel told radio dzBB.
NOTICE OF TERMINATION
Pimentel said that in the event that Malacañang transmits the notice of termination to the US, the agreement will remain effective for the next 180 days.
“Sa loob ng anim na buwan buhay pa ang VFA at wala naman sinasabing hindi na pwedeng bawiin (The VFA will still be effective within 180 days [from the date of the notice of termination] and nothing was stated in the agreement that we cannot recall the termination),” he said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, last Friday said the President had ordered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to order the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to transmit the letter of termination of the VFA to the US.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had told senators that the letter of termination was ready for dispatch but said he was holding the transmission until he gets the President’s go-ahead.
Medialdea denied he has received such instructions, while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday said the President had not issued any order directing the DFA to transmit the letter of termination.
On Sunday, Panelo, in a radio interview, stood pat on his announcement. Panelo said the document containing the order for Medialdea to instruct the DFA is not yet available because, being a weekend, government offices were still close.
He said the written executive order or instruction is needed to make it official because a mere verbal order is not enough.
“Unang-una, wala pang opisina, Sabado, Linggo. Si Presidente nasa Davao, papaano niya mapapadala ‘yung kanyang instruction? Kailangan mo siyempre ‘yung meron executive document or rather in writing iyong instruction mo sa isang opisyal mo. Hindi naman pwedeng verbal-verbal lang. Hintayin natin dumating ang Monday, pagdating ni Presidente (First of all, there is no office work on Saturday, Sunday. The President is in Davao, how can he send his instruction? You of course need an executive document or rather put in writing your instruction to your official. You cannot just do it verbally. Let’s wait for Monday when the President arrives),” he said.
Panelo’s excuse contradicts previous situations when verbal orders of the President were implemented before a written order was released, like when he banned the importation of e-cigarettes and its use in public places, when he ordered a review and the crafting of new agreements with water concessionaires, and when he ordered the pull out of policemen and soldiers deployed to help in the evacuation and preventing people from entering the permanent danger zone around Taal volcano.
Panelo said even if the termination of the VFA pushes trough, the Senate can still proceed with its review of the agreement between the two countries and submit its recommendation to the executive branch whether the decision taken was right, what provisions should have been introduced, removed or amended.
He said the President will study the Senate recommendation.
“Eh inabrogate mo tapos nung ni-review nila na meron silang mga rekomendasyon na halimbawa sabihin nila na ‘o, tama iyon kasi dapat ganito ang gawin natin’, ‘eto dapat ang mga terms,’ eh di nakatulong sila (If they reviewed it after its been abrogated, and recommended for example that ‘this is right, you should have done this’ or ‘these should have been the terms,’ they will be helpful),” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor