Terminating VFA will make the implementation of Mutual Defense Treaty ‘more challenging’ — former DFA Sec. Del Rosario

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 26) — Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said ending the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the country and the United States would mean the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) more difficult to implement.

In a statement released Sunday, del Rosario mentioned "several valid reasons" why the agreement should stay, among them, "Without the VFA, making the MDT work would be more challenging, especially since we now have specific external threats as well as more devastating natural calamities."

Del Rosario specifically pointed out how swiftly the US was able to send help to the areas devastated by Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013, adding it was possible because of the VFA.

"Other countries wanted to immediately respond but were constrained by their lack of legal arrangements for their troops to enter the Philippines," he said,

He recognized the VFA was "imperfect," but also said doing away with it would "interrupt the benefits of the MDT" especially concerning the "joint training and exercises, the pursuit of modernization" of military forces.

Del Rosario also said that ending the VFA would "serve to actualize our pivot towards China against the strong and vehement objections of our people."

READ: Trust in China among Filipinos tumbles further in Q3

In a June 2019 interview on CNN Philippines' The Source, del Rosario said there have been many times that China showed that it could not be trusted.

Del Rosario's statement comes in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to terminate the VFA, should the US fail to reverse its cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's visa.

Following the President's speech, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government was now working on the process of the VFA's termination.

Malacañang has not issued a response to del Rosario's statement.

RELATED: Duterte to soon receive DOJ memo on how to terminate VFA 

The 1998 VFA is the first of two agreements between Washington and Manila about the treatment of their troops when they are in the US or the Philippines.

Under the agreement, US troops are not subject to passport and visa regulations when entering and leaving the Philippines. Their US driving permits and licenses are also considered to be valid in the Philippines.

The US also has the right to retain its jurisdiction over its military personnel when they commit crimes in the Philippines, unless they committed a crime which is punishable in the Philippines but not in US, or if they commit a crime which is related to the security of the Philippines.

The US also keeps jurisdiction over its military personnel in the event of a criminal prosecution, unless the Philippines convinces it to turn over its personnel. The US will make its personnel available for all investigative and judicial proceedings for just one year, after which the US is no longer obliged to do this.

The VFA can be terminated by either the Philippines or the US, by writing to the other party that they want to end the agreement.

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

CNN Philippines' Xave Gregorio and Pia Garcia contributed to this story