MANILA, Philippines – With President Rodrigo Duterte going ahead with the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday, February 12, that the country can survive without the 20-year-old deal.
“We survived the historic termination of the RP-US military bases agreement; there’s no reason why we shall not survive the termination of a mere Visiting Forces Agreement,” said Guevarra, referring to the closure of American military bases here in 1992.
Guevarra said that without the VFA, the other agreements with the US – the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – would be “practically useless.”
He said “the termination of the VFA will make the EDCA practically useless and the MDT a hollow agreement.”
Guevarra acknowledged there were “differing views” among members of the government panel that reviewed the VFA, but that they’re now “all water under the bridge.”
The Philippines sent on February 11 its termination notice to the US to scrap the decades-old VFA, a drastic policy move that Duterte announced as an outburst against the US when Senator Ronald Bato Dela Rosa’s US visa was canceled. (READ: With threats to scrap VFA, Duterte gambles Phillippines’ security)
US defense chief Mark Esper said the termination of the agreement is a “move in the wrong direction.”
‘Water under the bridge’
It was unclear whether Guevarra agreed that the VFA should be terminated, or if he was simply stating the consequences.
Guevarra refused to disclose what the recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces (PCVF), which was tasked by Malacañang to assess risks of a termination.
Guevarra only said that the members of the PCVF – which include, among others, the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – had “differing views.”
“Whether we supported the President’s position or recommended another option is now water under the bridge. But one thing is clear; the President had everything he needed to know before he made up his mind to terminate the VFA,” said Guevarra.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said last week that it was risky for the Philippines to scrap the VFA. But when Duterte sent official notice of termination, Locsin dialled down and said: “As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development.”
Senior military officers who talked to Rappler said they disagree with the termination of the VFA.
The MDT, passed in 1951, is the overarching agreement of the US and the Philippines to defend each other in case of an attack.
The Senate abolished the Military Bases Agreement (MBA) in 1991, effectively kicking out US troops in the Philippines. But in 1999, the Philippines and the US signed the VFA, to an extent welcoming back US forces in a visiting capacity.
The Aquino-time EDCA was a further operational feature of the VFA, providing for increased military presence here.
“The basic MDT need not be scrapped. Maybe in the future, new arrangements may be entered into that will give teeth and muscle to this treaty, or it may be scrapped altogether,” said Guevarra. –Rappler.com