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Rody blows a fuse; VFA gets the ax

Whether or not they give me my visa, go to America because that will be a good sign to prove to the whole world that our foreign policy is really independent

Kristina Maralit

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PROTESTS against the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States are once again in vogue following President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of his intent to abrogate the one-sided treaty. AFP

The United States government’s decision to cancel the visa of Sen. Ronald De la Rosa, who was the first Philippine National Police (PNP) chief of President Rodrigo Duterte and the pointman in his signature war on drugs, was the final straw to the Chief Executive’s decision to nix the invitation to visit the United States and consider the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

De la Rosa disclosed this yesterday as several government agencies concerned started work to inform the US of the VFA’s abrogation.

The cancellation of my visa has become the tipping point. Maybe, the President has been keeping his outrage against them, and it has reached its highest when it involved me.

The VFA allows American troops rotational presence in designated areas in the country.

The senator made the statement after the President ordered the VFA repeal. The pact was anchored on the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the former colonizer.

The VFA provides for temporary visits of American forces in the Philippines and the staging of periodic joint military drills.

“It is not all about me, it is not all about my visa. The cancellation of my visa has become the tipping point. Maybe, the President has been keeping his outrage against them and it has reached its highest when it involved me. There the volcano has already exploded,” De la Rosa explained in an interview at the Senate on Friday.

He clarified that regardless whether it is him or the other senators, he believed that Duterte will do the same, noting that the Chief Executive doesn’t want government officials to be “treated unfairly.”

One-sided relations

Amid comments of some senator that the VFA and De la Rosa’s visa have no connection, the lawmaker admitted that it is not a fair bargain but will show other foreign countries that the Philippines observe an independent foreign policy.

“I don’t deserve this bargain but it is not all about me. It is about one-sided foreign relations. Their soldiers are permitted to come inside and go outside our territory while a senator of this republic is barred from entering their territory due to their intentions of tinkering with our domestic affairs,” he said.

He added the benefits from the agreement might be put to waste. But if Duterte wants to cancel it in order for other countries to respect Philippine sovereignty, then the intention should be considered.

‘Go on with visit’

“I regret (its cancellation) in the sense that the long-standing ties will be cut just like that. But does the President wanted this to show the world that we should also be respected or be given equal treatment and we will not be treated as objects? Then that is okay with me,” he explained.

De la Rosa also mentioned that he might pay Duterte a visit on Monday to thank him personally but he will also advise the Chief Executive to attend the US-ASEAN Summit that will be held this March.

“He might be convinced to reconsider (about his decision not to attend the summit). But if I were to ask, I will tell the President ‘Sir, whether or not they give me my visa, go to America because that will be a good sign to prove to the whole world that our foreign policy is really independent and we are not biased. We are neutral. We can go to China, we can go to Russia, we can go to US.

That’s how independent we should be,” he said.

More visas chopped off

The senator also mentioned an unconfirmed piece of information that there are some ranking police officials whose US visas were also voided.

De la Rosa said that the US visas of the “key officials” and all regional directors during his time as PNP chief who had an active role during the first months of the implementation of the administration’s anti-narcotics campaign have been cancelled.

“My information is all who are in position during my time (as PNP chief had canceled US Visas). Those who are in position during the initial staging of the drug war,” he said.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also defended the decision to scrap a military pact between the two countries after the latter canceled a Filipino lawmaker’s US visa.

In a text message to reporters, Lorenzana said he can understand why the Chief Executive is “peeved by the cancellation” of Sen. De la Rosa’s visa because of the “alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the drug war.”

VFA on chopping board

On the other hand, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also announced in a social media post that they are starting the process of cancellation of the VFA.

“Leaving for Wash DC on unrelated matters. But called (Defense) Secretary Lorenzana as Vice Chair — I am Chair of VFA — to start the process of terminating USVFA. Step 1, calling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because on our side it is a treaty; on US side Executive Agreement,” he posted.

Locsin also explained that the abrogation of the pact does not need the concurrence of the Senate as Mr. Duterte can revoke it anytime.

“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,” he said.

This was affirmed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Aquilino Pimentel III saying: “(Regarding) VFA, that agreement should always be subject to review. The president may cancel it with or without a reason. He can even say that “times have changed and it is no longer needed by the country.”

He further explained that the reason may look like a “personal” one but Pimentel said that punishing Dela Rosa for his implementation of the administration’s anti-drug war has the “intent to interfere by a foreign state with the Philippine domestic policy.”

It is not all about me, it is not all about my visa.

“I see the point of the President. He believes Sen. Bato is being punished by the US for having once been the implementor of his main program, of the government — the all-out war against drugs. Since that is domestic policy, then punishing someone (even if indirectly) for a domestic policy shows the intent to interfere by a foreign state with Philippine domestic policy,” he said.

Opposition protests

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, said that Malacañang should be focusing on the Taal eruption and the threats of new Coronavirus in the country instead of De la Rosa’s US visa.

“It would be better for Malacañang to focus on the welfare and suffering of millions of our countrymen affected by the Taal Volcano eruption and the threat of the coronavirus outbreak than the cancellation of one US Visa,” Pangilinan said.

This was not countered by De la Rosa but he said that the Palace might not listen to Pangilinan’s suggestion.

Bato targeted

“It is a direct affront to PRRD being the architect of the drug war that he started upon his assumption of office,” Lorenzana said, who also claimed the former cop turned senator was “specifically targeted.”

“He ordered Bato, then the newly-installed chief PNP, to launch the drug war and enjoined the entire PNP to do their duties and pledged he would back them up,” he added.

The DND chief went further by saying Mr. Duterte was “just being true to his promise” to take responsibility for the official actions of his men who were just acting based on his directive.

Dela Rosa earlier this week confirmed that his visa indeed has been canceled following the US Senates’ passage of a resolution barring all Filipino officials believed to have committed human rights abuses from setting foot on American soil.

with Hana Bordery @tribunephl_hana

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