Ping on assessment review of VFA termination: ‘Better late than never’

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    DELAYED realization.

    This was how Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday described Malacañang’s order for an “impact assessment” on Philippine and US ties if the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries is terminated by the Duterte administration.

    “Better late than never. There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting mistakes, no matter how subtle it is done. At least, Malacañang may have realized that a knee-jerk reaction to some petty and personal reason might have some undue implications on the country’s national interest,” said Lacson, Senate committee on national defense and security chair.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said the Cabinet cluster on peace, justice and security will meet later this week to carry out the President’s order.

    Guevarra said, though, that he had already met with the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces Agreement. He declined to disclose the results of the meeting.

    “Not firmed up yet. The Cabinet cluster on peace, justice and security will still meet on Friday to deliberate and make recommendations to the President,” Guevarra said.

    On Monday, Guevarra said Malacañang has asked the DOJ to conduct a “preliminary impact assessment” on the possible termination of the VFA with the United States.

    Guevarra was supposed to submit on Monday the DOJ’s memorandum covering the procedure for the termination of the VFA.

    But with the new instruction, he said the DOJ has revised its deadline so it can update its study and include the impact of the possible termination of the VFA which governs the conduct of US military troops while they are in the country during training exercises and maneuvers.

    Guevarra said he will ask the Cabinet cluster on justice, peace and security and the VFA Commission “for an in-depth and comprehensive impact assessment” if the VFA is terminated.

    The DOJ is part of the Cabinet cluster on justice, peace and security, which also includes the Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, Office of the Executive Secretary and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

    Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, Senate foreign relations committee chair, said it was clear from the President’s speech that the VFA has not yet been terminated.

    Pimentel was referring to the speech made by Duterte last week when he threatened to annul the VFA after the US cancelled the visa of administration ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.

    Pimentel had earlier cautioned Malacañang against the termination of the treaty, saying this could affect the diplomatic ties between the US and the Philippines.

    “The President has not (yet) terminated the VFA. This was clear when he mentioned a 30-day period. Hence the best that the other executive agencies can do is to start the review of the VFA: how to properly terminate it, what are the possible ramifications or effects, and also conduct an audit of the benefits and disadvantages of having a VFA with the US among other things that can be done,” Pimentel said. – With Ahzel Hachero