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Phl tosses VFA out

Francis Wakefield

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Two scheduled activities with the United States were thrown out the window by Malacañang on Tuesday, along with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) — an action that completely shifted the country’s pivot away from its erstwhile top economic and military ally.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. affixed his signature to the notice of termination of the VFA, completing President Rodrigo Duterte’s order that stemmed out of the US Magnitsky Act. The measure sanctions those whom the US sees as human rights offenders by freezing their assets and banning their entry into the country.

Mr. Duterte’s order to cut military links with the US forces came after America’s nullification of Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa’s visa. The lawmaker is one of the President’s top allies.

The Magnitsky Act, also known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, was originally intended to  punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.

President Duterte and his allies contested the US premise on the application of the ban on Philippine officials like Senator de la Rosa.

Mr. Duterte made the loudest statement with his decision to abrogate the VFA. It was the second time the Philippines set the US military back in its bid for a continued presence in this part of Asia after it was first kicked out of its military bases in the country on 16 September 1991.

Unlike the US bases treaty abrogration, though, the President no longer needed a Senate action to cut ties with the US military this time.

The US had sent emissaries to the Malacanang, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. But the Chief Executive remained firm that it was time for the Philippines to look for a new strategic defense partner or partners.

Along with the VFA, it is also likely that the so-called strategic dialogue between the two countries as proposed by US Department of State Assistant Secretary Clarke Cooper will no longer push through in March, along with the Balikatan military exercises set for April.

Via a Twitter post, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay announced on Tuesday that Mr. Duterte, through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, ordered Locsin to sign the notice.

“On the order of the President (through) Executive Secretary Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin signed today the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will (be) delivered to the US Embassy in Manila forthwith,” Dulay said.

This was affirmed by Locsin despite claiming before a Senate inquiry that the VFA should be “vigorously reviewed.”

“The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement. As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,” Locsin said in separate tweet.

While Duterte delivered his speech on Monday night, the senators adopted Senate Resolution 312 calling on Duterte to reconsider his stand on the VFA’s scrapping while the agreement is under review.

It was contained in Committee Report 43 after the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has assessed the termination of VFA with the members of the Executive Department.

Senators also moved to include their assertion that the Senate must also concur before any agreement or treaty will be deemed terminated — the same process as when the Philippine government is entering into an international agreement.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, meanwhile, said VFA can only be revived when a new leadership succeeds Mr. Duterte.

“The President has already expressed his view on the matter. It is in my position to respect the President’s decision. In any case, we can enter into a new agreement when we have a new president come July 2022,” Go told reporters in an ambush interview.

But he said his colleagues can contest the VFA’s termination before the Supreme Court (SC) as he reiterated that as Chief Executive, Duterte is the main architect of  Philippine foreign policies.

Go explained  that the President’s decision was driven by the US interference on the Philippine domestic affairs.

“In the case of (Senator) de la Rosa, that is an attack on the campaign of our government against illegal drugs,” he said.

“Some are also (interfering in the case of Sen. Leila) De Lima which is truly wrong and an intrusion by their senators in our country’s (affairs). Mind your own business. You (US) already reached your limit,” the lawmaker added.

While he claimed to be “bothered” by the President’s decision, de la Rosa said he accepts the VFA’s termination, proclaiming: “We have already crossed the roads.”

“That was already considered by the President for a long time. You cannot say that it (was) a knee-jerk reaction. It is very hard to change, his stand, if he already thought about that for a long time,” De la Rosa said.

Panelo also declared that the VFA abrogation takes effect 180 days since the US’s receipt of the document.

The Palace mouthpiece also disclosed that talks are being initiated with a new military partner, which he said could be the United Kingdom.

He also quoted the President as saying: “If we have to deal with other countries, we have to deal on the basis of equality and greatness.”

The Philippines still has two treaties with the US in effect: The Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Coordination Agreement.

As these happened, the Philippine Navy also on Tuesday formally commenced its hosting of a workshop attended by representatives of navies from 23 countries in the Western Pacific Region.

The three-day activity, which will wrap up on 13 Febuary, is a prelude to the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) slated in May to also be held in the country.

WPNS is the biennial meeting of navies bordering the Pacific region.

 

with Hananeel Bordey and
Kristina Maralit 

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