Duterte to soon receive DOJ memo on how to terminate VFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 25) — Questions surrounding the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement will soon be answered as the Department of Justice finished its study on the "proper procedure" in ending the country's two-decade military pact with the United States.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Saturday told reporters he will submit the department's findings in a memorandum to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday.

He refused to disclose details, but said his memo will answer certain points of contention, including the following: "Is the VFA a treaty or an executive agreement? If it’s a treaty, is Senate concurrence required for termination? Who will give the notice of termination? Is it necessary to state any ground for termination?"

These questions have cropped up following Duterte's order to scrap the VFA – a drastic response to the US' cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's tourist visa. Dela Rosa has admitted that alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018 may be the reason behind the revocation of his visa.

READ: Another police general's US visa canceled, Dela Rosa says

On Friday, Malacañang announced that Duterte is no longer waiting for the US to change its mind – the President already ordered to start the termination process. Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy By" Locsin, Jr. said he quickly coordinated with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to heed the President's order.

Locsin said they will also discuss the issue with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying the VFA is considered by the Philippines as a treaty – requiring Senate concurrence for its passage – while the US treats it as an executive agreement.

Whether the Senate needs to concur with the termination of the treaty is still unclear, as the Constitution only says that the upper chamber's nod is needed for a treaty to come into force. This question is also the subject of petitions before the Supreme Court assailing Duterte's withdrawal of the Philippines from the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, the VFA states it can be terminated via a written notice from either the Philippines or the US. Expiration will come 180 days from the time either party notifies each other.

The 1998 agreement includes lax visa and passport policies for American troops and allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes in the Philippines.

Zia Alonto Adiong, member of parliament of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority in a statement on Saturday called on the government to reconsider the planned termination, noting how the US forces helped liberate Marawi City from terrorists in 2017.

"Although I do not necessarily agree on the entirety of the Visiting Forces Agreement, I likewise could not deny the fact that though it took us 5 long months before Marawi was finally liberated, part of it was also due to the assistance we received by virtue of this mutual defense cooperation," Adiong said.

"I think it will be prudent to continue our defense cooperation at least on the aspect of intelligence sharing at this crucial time that our country has been targeted by transnational crimes as a potential area of operation to expand the ISIS global terror network in the ASEAN region," he added.

The Philippines and the US also have the Mutual Defense Treaty, which basically states that each country would come to the defense of another in case of an attack by a foreign country, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which aims to improve joint exercises and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Guevarra said their study does not include how terminating the VFA would affect these other agreements. He said it may have to be studied separately by the Departments of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

CNN Philippines' Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.