Ping: Cabinet, military officials worry about VFA abrogation

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    A GOOD number of Cabinet secretaries and military officials have serious concerns over the termination of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement but do not have the courage to tell President Duterte about their apprehensions, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday said.

    Lacson made the statement amid a Senate plan to formally file a petition next week asking the Supreme Court to define the upper chamber’s role in the abrogation of international treaties.

    Lacson, during the Kapihan sa Senado forum, said the Cabinet members and military officials — he did not say how many — were hesitant to air their sentiments to President Duterte for fear of reprisal.

    There are more than 25 Cabinet secretaries under the Duterte administration.

    Lacson said the secretaries and military officials aired their reservations during informal talks with senators.

    “We talked to several Cabinet members, I won’t mention their names at baka malasin pa (so as not to put them in an awkward situation). But they are actually against the abrogation. At least kapag kami-kami lang, hindi sila nag-hesitate magsabi na mali ang decision to abrogate because we are not prepared for it (We talked to several Cabinet members, I won’t mention their names so as not to put them in an awkward situation. But they are actually against the abrogation. At least during our talk, they do not hesitate to tell us that it was a bad decision to abrogate [the VFA] because we are not prepared for it),” Lacson said.

    He said the Cabinet secretaries had told senators that they have tried to dissuade the President from proceeding with the termination but could not really muster enough courage to tell him directly not to end the VFA.

    “Maraming takot kay Presidente. Nag-e-express sila pero lagi sila nananantsa ba, na kung how to bring it to his attention, how to dissuade him from proceeding sa abrogation. And sa tingin lang, mukhang made up ang mind ni President Duterte. But there are times na medyo parang lumalambot. But that’s where we are right now (Many of them fear the President. They tried to express their sentiments, bring them to his attention, how to dissuade him from proceeding with the abrogation. But they saw that the President was determined. But there were times that the President seemed to be changing his stance. But that’s where we are right now),” he added.

    In a past Senate hearing, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin had said the country’s withdrawal from the military accord would have a negative impact on the overall relations of the Philippines and the United States.

    Locsin also cited the benefits of the VFA to the country, particularly with the Armed Forces, and in our security arrangements.

    Lacson said many Cabinet members agreed with Locsin since the country has received around US$1.8 billion worth of military assistance from Washington.

    The senator, a former chief of the PNP and a graduate of the Philippine Military Army, expressed doubt that the AFP has the capabilities to defend the country at present, as what President Duterte has been saying.

    Lacson said top military officials cannot be expected to contradict their commander-in-chief’s pronouncement.

    On point, the AFP yesterday said it can address the various security threats without any assistance from the United States, although it hinted it is going to struggle.

    “We can survive, we will, we should. The die is cast,” said AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, reiterating an earlier pronouncement of AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.
    “We – soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines – are toeing the line of the commander-in-chief and President Rodrigo Duterte towards self-reliance,” Arevalo said.

    Arevalo cited the Senate’s decision not to extend the Military Bases Agreement with the Americans in the 1990s. It paved the way for the closure of US air and naval bases in the country.

    “We struggled but survived the period 1991-1998 when the MBA was no longer renewed, until the VFA was signed,” he said.

    “With the abrogation of the VFA, we assure our countrymen that we will again, as our forebears did in their time, valiantly face contemporary threats to national security, terrorism, and other transnational crimes,” he added.

    Arevalo said the military “will secure our people and defend the country with the relatively and modestly AFP that we have now.”

    On Wednesday, President Duterte allayed concerns on the impact of the termination of the 21-year-old VFA.

    While Duterte acknowledged that the Americans have the “might and power” to address rebellion and terrorism, he said the AFP and the PNP can manage to address these problems. He said the country should not be called a republic if it cannot address such threats.

    The Philippine government, through Locsin, has sent a formal notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy in Manila. The termination will take legal effect on August 9.

    Prior to the sending the formal notice, the Senate has filed a resolution asking the President to reconsider his planned abrogation of the VFA while the chamber conducts a thorough review of the agreement.

    Following the termination, senators filed a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that it should have a role in the cancellation of international treaties, similarly since it plays an important part in the ratification of international treaties and executive agreements.

    Lacson said the Senate will file next week its petition asking the SC to define the Senate’s role in the abrogation of international treaties and agreements.

    In the event that the SC issues a favorable ruling for the Senate, Lacson said they will still need a 2/3 votes to carry out their role in treaty termination.

    So far, he said, seven senators have abstained from supporting the petition to be filed, leaving 16 more senators who signified support to the petition.

    He, however, said that he has no idea on how to go about in recalling the notice of termination.

    Sen. Franklin Drilon has earlier filed a clarification before the SC on the role of the Senate in the withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court. The SC has yet to come up with a decision. – With Victor Reyes