THE planned termination of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will impact negatively on the country, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin yesterday told senators.
“While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits for it to be terminated,” Locsin said during the Senate foreign relations committee’s review of the executive agreement.
Locsin said ending the 21-year-old pact with the United States would “negatively impact the Philippine defense and security arrangement, as well as the overall bilateral relations of the Philippines with the US.”
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto agreed with Locsin, pointing out that the country needs the VFA especially now that China has been aggressively building structures in islands claimed by the Philippines.
“If we abrogate the VFA, this sharp contrast will not escape our people’s attention: On how we could let the red carpet stay for someone who has taken our land while booting the one who has been on our side in protesting such occupation,” Recto said.
He said the US has been always helping the country in times of calamities since they are well-equipped.
“Because we are too poor to modernize our military, we have relied on Americans to become a de facto disaster response unit. And that is the inconvenient truth,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that while the military has been benefitting from the agreement, the government can now do away with the VFA since the country’s long-term interest is to be self-sufficient when it comes to defense capability.
“We should have at least our minimum deterrent capability. Whether we need the VFA indefinitely, I think we do not need VFA indefinitely so we should use the interim to build up our capabilities,” Lorenzan said during the Senate hearing.
Earlier in the hearing, Lorenzana cited the benefits the country has been getting from the VFA, including the assistance extended by the US in delivering relief goods when Tacloban City was battered by super typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
He also said the Washington has given the Philippines a total of US$1.3 billion since 1998, the biggest grant of which was given to the Armed Forces in 2017 in the amount of US$219 million.
Lorenzana likewise bared during the hearing that the United States turned down his request for a review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the two countries when he went to the US last year.
“For some reasons, the US does not want it (MDT) reviewed,” Lorenzana said, saying that he requested for the review to clarify the “disconnect” between the Philippines’ and the US’ interpretation of the treaty.
Among others, he said Pentagon does not consider the Scarborough Shoal a part of metropolitan Philippines because for Americans, he claimed, metropolitan Philippines covers only the whole country and islands we occupy and does not include the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III convened his committee to do a review of the VFA amid the threat of President Duterte to termination as retaliation to the cancellation of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa.
Sen. Richard Gordon said abrogation of the VFA must be dictated by need rather than “whims or caprice,” and stressed that the country’s security must “ultimately matter.”
“Is it a national interest to abolish the VFA at this point in time? Hindi naman tayo nakikipag-agreement dahil gusto natin pero dahil kailangan natin. Kung hindi natin kailangan, huwag tayong makipag-agree. But we have to be on our own (Is it a national interest to abolish the VFA at this point in time? We do not enter into an agreement just because we want it but rather because we need it. If we do not need it, let us not enter into an agreement. But we have to be on our own),” Gordon said.
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said Duterte’s threat to terminate the VFA “highlights and validates the need for the Senate to be part of foreign policy formulation.”
“The Senate, this chamber, not the House of Representatives, is considered as the partner of the President in terms of foreign policy. It is part also of our check and balance, it is part of our exercise of that shared power insofar as foreign policy formulation is concerned. A failure on our part to assert such roles is an abdication of our ability and our authority to participate in foreign policy formulation,” Drilon said.
“Our failure to do so will weaken the Senate,” he added.
Drilon said any plan to terminate the VFA should have the concurrence of the Senate since a treaty becomes a law only after it is ratified by the Senate.
“Mr. President, it is our submission that the power of the Philippines by treaty or international agreement is vested jointly by the Constitution in the President and the Senate. Once ratified and concurred in, it becomes part of the law of the land. I repeat that, when we ratify a treaty, that treaty becomes part of the law of the land. Therefore, it is our submission that a treaty may not be undone without that shared power that put it into effect,” he said.
Sen. Grace Poe said the VFA should be assessed based on its own merit and beyond political noise.
“It is our Constitutional duty to uphold the principle of separation of powers especially checks and balances which gave rise to the need for Senate action on treaties. Hindi natin ito pribilehiyo lang. Tungkulin nating busisiin ang mga treaty na pinapasok at inaalisan ng Pilipinas (This is not just a privilege. It is our duty to review treaties entered into and terminated by the Philippines),” Poe said.
“If we are to withdraw from any bilateral agreement, let it be with basis. If we are to concur in any executive action, let it be ultimately for the interest of the people,” she said.
The VFA between the Philippines and the United States was established in 1999 upon ratification by the Senate. The agreement allows defense forces cooperation between the two nations and permits the US military to participate in the training programs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Since the creation of the VFA, the US has been providing military support to the Philippines in countering threats such as terrorism, and assisting on the country’s internal security operations.