PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte has formally ordered the government to send the United States a notice terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), according to Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
Panelo told reporters on Friday, February 7 that the president has instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to inform Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send the notice to the U.S. government that would end the two-decade long agreement.
“[President Rodrigo Duterte] is instructing [Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea] to tell [the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr.] to send the notice of termination to the U.S. government,” the spokesperson said in a text message to reporters.
Panelo also added that Duterte is slated to speak to U.S. President Donald Trump by phone, though no further details of the conversation have been shared.
During a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on Thursday, Locsin previously said that he had “prepared the notice of termination but it has not been sent upon the orders of the president.”
He added, “I prepared it and I specifically said that I will send it upon the direct personal order of the president and no one else.”
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 following the U.S.’ cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa. He gave the U.S. a month to “correct” the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, however, he ordered the start of the termination process the following day.
Ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, the VFA can be terminated through a written notice from either of the countries, taking effect 180 days after the notification.
VFA needs ‘vigorous review’
Locsin said a “vigorous review” of the VFA is needed.
“There is value in revisiting the VFA to address matters of sovereignty such as jurisdiction and custody and early resumption of clarificatory talks should serve as a basis, as well as a jump-off point for a review of the VFA,” he said in his opening speech on Thursday.
“Perhaps, we should review the VFA, certainly we should do that because I don’t believe that because we need them, we should suffer insults to our sovereignty,” he added.
Locsin also pointed out the benefits that the Philippines has been getting from the VFA, including military assistance, financial grants, and deterrence against possible attacks from other countries.
The continuance of the agreement “is deemed to be more beneficial” for the country, Locsin said, noting that abrogating the VFA would render the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) “nothing but pieces of paper.”
“When you abrogate the VFA, the MDT can remain and so with EDCA but both will be nothing but merely pieces of paper… as the VFA is the implementing document,” he said.
Under the Supreme Court jurisprudence, it is stated that EDCA can only exist with the VFA.
Locsin said he will “insist on” negotiating controversial provisions of the VFA during the review, but also stressed that the Department of Foreign Affairs has no formal stance on whether it favors a termination or a review of the VFA.
“The DFA, at this point, has no preference for any of these options,” he said. “But at this point, I think, a review, a vigorous review of the Visiting Forces Agreement is called for.”