Philippines formally ends Visiting Forces Agreement with US

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 11) — The Philippines has finally sent the United States a notice to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, marking the start of the 180-day period from when the two-decade military pact will be effectively scrapped.

Malacañang on Tuesday confirmed that the document has been signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. and sent to the US government.

"The notice of the termination has been sent and the effectivity of that would be 180 days from the receipt of the US government of such notice," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo told a media briefing.

After the Palace's press conference, Locsin announced on Twitter that Deputy Chief of Mission John Law of the US Embassy in Manila has received the notice of termination.

"As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development," Locsin said.

Panelo, who also serves as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said there is no need to wait for any response from the US government, since the VFA itself says it can be terminated via a written notice from either of the countries. Article 9 of the VFA states, "This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement."

The termination notice preempts what could have been a discussion on the VFA during the bilateral dialogue being eyed by the US State Department in March, Panelo said.

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country. Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.

Locsin earlier said he will he will insist on negotiating these issues should the VFA be reviewed.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

In a Senate hearing last week, the senior diplomat pushed for a "vigorous review" of the VFA instead, saying the continuance of the agreement is "is deemed to be more beneficial" for the Philippines. He highlighted the benefits that the Philippines has been getting from the VFA: military assistance, financial grants, and deterrence against possible attacks from other countries, among others.

READ: PH could lose up to ₱10 billion in aid if VFA ends, Locsin says

After that hearing however, Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte has not changed his mind and was ready to instruct Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to ask Locsin to send the notice.

Making good on a threat

The VFA was brought to light in January after Duterte threatened to scrap it in response to US' cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's tourist visa. Dela Rosa acknowledged that the revocation of his visa may have something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.

Malacañang said US senators' repeated calls for the release of Senator Leila de Lima – an opposition lawmaker detained on drug charges since 2017 – was also among the reasons for Duterte's move to end the VFA.

The US' 2020 budget law includes a provision that bans Filipino government officials involved in De Lima's imprisonment. The American Senate also passed a resolution in January seeking to deny US entry to and freeze the assets of Philippine officials "responsible for extrajudicial killings" and the "prolonged detention" of De Lima.

Malacañang has repeatedly denied that there are state-sanctioned killings, and stressed that the De Lima's drug cases are now being tried by the country's independent courts.

Although US President Donald Trump has not criticized any of the Philippines' policies, Panelo said the Senate serves as "the voice of the US government." Still, the Philippines is hoping for even warmer ties with its long-standing ally, Panelo said.

READ: Trump trying to save Visiting Forces Agreement, Duterte says

What happens to other PH-US deals?

The Philippines and the US have two more major military agreements – the Mutual Defense Treaty, which states that each country would come to the defense of the other in case of an attack by a foreign country, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the US military to use and control five bases in the Philippines.

Panelo said Malacañang will wait for the Senate's findings on how the termination of the VFA would impact these two other deals.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, said there is no more sense in reviewing it.

"Because what will we review if the VFA has been in fact terminated?" Drilon said, warning of its consequences.

"If the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot stand alone, because the basis of the EDCA is the VFA, and if the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot be effective. If the VFA and EDCA are no longer effective, then the MDT, as mentioned by Sec. Locsin, would be inutile and would serve no purpose," Drilon said in an impromptu interview with reporters prior to Palace's announcement.

The Senate approved a resolution Monday to thoroughly review the VFA before coming to a decision regarding its fate, but this was also overrun by the delivery of the termination notice.