MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines can “unilaterally” initiate the termination of its visiting forces agreement with the United States, consistent with President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
It doesn’t need congressional approval either, he added.
In a statement on Friday night, January 24, Lorenzana said, “[It] is well within the right of the Philippine government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.”
Still, Lorenzana said he would “discuss with the President the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA and what future actions may be undertaken by the DND Department of National Defense) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) regarding this matter.”
The defense chief said he was constantly consulting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who earlier said it was a “good move” on the part of Duterte to threaten to scrap the military pact in response to the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s American visa.
Locsin tweeted that he had started “terminating” the VFA, while Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said his department is studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”
Lorenzana, in his statement, said: “All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice.”
Dela Rosa’s visa is believed to have been canceled because of his involvement in the extrajudicial killings related to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. Dela Rosa was previously the chief of the national police, the architect of the drug war. Under the Magnitsky Act, the US can deny entry to people suspected of human rights violations in their own countries.
Some have opposed the scrapping of the VFA, including Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had cited the benefits of continued technical assistance from the US under the VFA, especially in Philippine efforts against terrorists.
US assistance led to the neutralization of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists, in 2015; and Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya in 2002. – MGAG/Rappler.com