Senate leaders ask Duterte to reconsider VFA termination

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 3) — Three senators, including two top Senate leaders, are asking President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson stressed in Senate Resolution No. 312 that the Senate should be allowed to review the treaty before the executive decides to terminate it.

They said the Senate should be allowed to assess the impact of the country’s withdrawal from the treaty, especially on intelligence information sharing, military aid and financing, and technical assistance from the US.

They added that the Senate should also give its opinion on the effects of the termination of the treaty on other agreements the Philippines struck with the US, particularly the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“A careful deliberation of these matters must be taken into account before finally arriving at a decision which will ultimately affect not only the security and economy of the Philippines but also that of our neighboring countries in the Asia Pacific region,” Sotto, Drilon and Lacson said in the resolution.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he is pushing ahead with the termination of the VFA and is no longer giving the US time to “correct” the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s visa.

Officials under him, however, are still reviewing and assessing the impact of the Philippines’ pullout from VFA.

Aside from the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, Duterte said he also wants the VFA terminated because of moves in the US Senate to have Philippine officials proven to have been involved in extrajudicial killings and the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima barred from entering the US and their assets in that country frozen.

The Philippine government can end the VFA by telling the US in writing that it wants out of the pact. The agreement will then remain in force for 180 days after this notice is sent.

It is still not clear whether the Senate should also concur to the termination of the treaty. The same question has been asked in petitions before the Supreme Court assailing the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court.

The VFA is an agreement between Manila and Washington signed in February 1998 on the treatment of American military personnel when they are in the Philippines. A counterpart agreement which deals with the treatment of Filipino military personnel in the US was signed in October 1998.

It is seen as an agreement that compliments the MDT, another agreement between the Philippines and the US which guarantees that the two countries will provide military aid to each other in case their metropolitan areas or their territories in the Pacific are attacked by a foreign force.

Among the provisions of the VFA are relaxed visa and passport policies for US military personnel, tax-free importation of equipment, materials and supplies by the US government, and free entry of US military aircraft and vessels into the Philippines.

The VFA has had a bitter history in the country as it has been dragged in two prominent criminal cases — the 2006 Subic rape case and the killing of Jennifer Laude.