President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, January 29, barred Cabinet members from traveling to the United States following his order to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the country and the U.S.
“I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time. No Cabinet member should be allowed to go to the United States,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“It’s like a boycott,” Duterte added, stressing that he is “toning down” the relations between the Philippines and its long-time ally.
The VFA, which came into force in 1999, covers the conduct of U.S. soldiers in the Philippines.
Among the provisions of the deal include lax visa and passport policies for U.S. troops, and the rights of the U.S. government to retain its jurisdiction over its military personnel when they commit crimes in the Philippines.
On Jan. 23, Duterte threatened to scrap the VFA after the U.S.’ cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa, giving the U.S. a month to “correct” the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa.
However, Duterte recanted his statement the next day, saying he is no longer waiting for the US to “correct” the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa and ordering the termination of the VFA.
“I am terminating the VFA. I was not joking. The day I said it was the day that I decided it should be terminated,” Duterte said.
He also insisted that he is not being capricious, and that his decision was for “every Filipino.”
“I have long thought about this. I don’t wait. I just announce late. I let them go first. At the time, I decided if they do this, I do it not only for Dela Rosa but for every Filipino,” Duterte added.
Still under review
According to government officials, they are still reviewing the impact of a possible pullout from the VFA.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III chairs, is set to review the VFA.
Pimentel said the panel will discuss how the VFA is being implemented, its timeline, problems and how these were addressed.
They will also review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S.
Pimentel added that recommendations by the Senate panel will be forwarded to Malacañang afterwards.