PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the government to begin terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, Malacañang said on Friday, January 24.
Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA on Thursday, following the U.S.’ cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s visa.
Though the U.S. Embassy did not give a reason for denying the visa, speculation has been around dela Rosa’s role in spearheading the administration’s war against illegal drugs and the extrajudicial killings associated with it during his stint as Philippine National Police chief.
The chief executive said he is giving the U.S. a month to “correct” the cancellation of dela Rosa’s visa.
“I am warning you kapag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan (if you don’t issue a correction) I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said during his speech in San Isidro, Leyte. “I am giving notice and they begin to count. I am giving the American government one month from now.”
However, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that Manila will no longer wait for Washington’s response on Duterte’s one-month deadline for the U.S. government to reverse its decision on the senator’s visa.
“Apparently it was not followed because I asked him last night, ‘When will the process start?’ ‘Tonight,’” he said.
“The process of starting it has commenced or will commence today,” he added. “The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly.”
Panelo also said that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was slated to meet with U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim to discuss the latest developments on the issue.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr., for his part, said he has asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to “start the process of terminating” the VFA as well as to inform the Philippine Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Called Sec Lorenzana as Vice Chair—I am Chair of VFA—to start process of terminating USVFA. Step 1 calling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because on our side it is a treaty; on U.S. side Executive Agreement,” he said in a tweet.
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.
According to Locsin, Duterte can withdraw from the VFA without Senate approval, likening the situation to the time Duterte withdrew from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2019.
“There is a view which I think I shared once—on pulling out of ICC as I did as UN ambassador—that while Senate concurrence is required to make a treaty; none is required to terminate it which is an entirely personal Presidential power. But that’s just a view,” the foreign affairs secretary said.
Locsin also said that he found Duterte’s pronouncement as “good move.”
“Good move. Visas fall under U.S. Justice Department in the Executive Branch. Either they’re serious about U.S.-PH military alliance or not,” he said.
Dela Rosa, meanwhile, said Duterte is a leader who doesn’t want his people treated unfairly.
“I don’t deserve this bargain but it is not all about me. It is about a one sided foreign relations,” dela Rosa told media.
“Their soldiers can freely enter the country while a senator of this republic is barred from entering their territory due to their intentions of tinkering with our domestic affairs,” he added.