Scrapping the VFA

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    BY now, after President Duterte floated the idea that he will most likely scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States on account of the cancellation of the US visa of his friend, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, most officials and media pundits have said their initial piece on the subject.

    The more articulate of our senators – Franklin Drilon of the minority-opposition and Panfilo Lacson of the majority, along with Koko Pimentel, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee – are of the opinion the while the VFA was ratified by the Senate in 1999, its abrogation by the President needs no concurrence by the chamber.

    The reason is that the VFA, passed during the administration of President Joseph Estrada, is essentially an executive agreement, and it also did not pass the United States Senate.

    While the manner of disposing of the agreement is more or less settled, the reason for such a move is still within the realm of debate. Officials and public opinion influencers are divided on whether or not to pursue the presidential threat of setting aside the accord.

    The Department of National Defense must take some of the blame on this development, because year in and year out, we have been conducting the Balikatan Exercises with the Americans but ordinary Filipinos have not been informed on the details, much less benefits, of these military exercises that are done in pursuance of the VFA.

    Before the President arbitrarily throws away the Visiting Forces Agreement, we believe he should also hear the contrary views on the matter.

    Former US ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. pointed out that such a move will be detrimental to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and will most likely benefit China. Cuisia thinks that the government’s fight against terrorism will be jeopardized because US soldiers helping the AFP fight the remnants of the Maute gang will have to be recalled.

    Cuisia also pointed out that three cutters from the US — the biggest vessels being used by the Philippine Navy and are currently the workhorses in defending the Philippine side of the South China Sea — may be retained here but in all other areas, the United States “will have to stand down.”

    We believe the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s US visa and the US Senate resolution on the ban on Filipino officials who were allegedly involved in the prosecution of Sen. Leila De Lima are insufficient reasons to scrap an important agreement like the VFA. We need more relevant issues for this.