It’s the beginning of the end for the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement

February 11, 2020 - 7:23 PM
Trump Duterte handshake ASEAN2017
President of the United States of America and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte during the 31st ASEAN GALA Dinner Photo by Russell Palma Pool Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to end a major longtime deal with the United States, which only came as a knee-jerk response to personal matter, formally pushed through on Tuesday after several contradicting decisions surfaced last week.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed that the 180-day countdown of the Visiting Forces Agreement termination officially starts on February 11 after the US Embassy received the notice.

“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 tweeted.

The 1998 international treaty, which mainly concerns the treatment of United States troops when they are in the Philippines, has long been criticized as a one-sided policy that benefits only the Americans.

Duterte only sought to scrap this deal as his as response or clapback when Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s US visa was canceled last January despite the incident being an individual concern.

Dela Rosa was the former head of the Philippine National Police who oversaw the administration’s bloody drug war called “Oplan Tokhang” in 2016.

The senator, for his part, said he’s bothered that it appeared that he was the reason for the termination of the agreement.

According to the agreement, a notice is first needed to be sent from either country to another, and this will take effect after 180 days.

Government officials, however, provided inconsistent announcements last week on how this notice was transmitted.

On February 6, Locsin told reporters that he had already prepared such communication. Duterte ordered him to hold it off.

The next day, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the president has already instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Locsin to proceed with sending the notice to the US government.

Duterte was also scheduled to talk to US President Donald Trump through a phone call. However, the exact time and agenda of the call were not indicated.

Asked about his reaction on the matter, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on February 8, bared that Locsin has yet received an order to inform the US in formally abrogating the VFA.

Medialdea himself told him that no order was issued yet from Duterte.

“Yes, according to Sec Medialdea! None. Nada. Zilch. Awan. Wala! Anggapo,” Lorenzana said.

This time, the US Embassy issued a statement that it has finally received the intent to terminate the VFA coursed through Locsin.

Not nationalism

Critics of the VFA previously said it is not right to scrap the VFA just because the US embassy canceled Dela Rosa’s passport.

The League of Filipino Students also expressed similar opposition and encouraged the public to be vigilant on the Duterte administration’s next steps.

“We welcome the decision to terminate VFA, but it must be done on the basis of upholding genuine sovereignty, and not because of dela Rosa’s visa. Duterte should not use this as a bargaining chip for his selfish interests,” said LFS National Spokesperson Kara Taggaoa.

The group reiterated that this was not done for the sake of reinforcing sovereignty, citing Duterte’s close alignment with the Chinese government as proof.

“What is the real reason behind Duterte’s decision? We must remain wary of his plans behind this. He has been playing both US and China, aware of the growing tension between these superpowers, and placing our country in a compromised situation,” said Taggaoa.

PRESS RELEASEOn the termination of VFA: No lipservice; uphold genuine sovereigntyMalacañang announced Friday night…

Posted by League of Filipino Students on Friday, February 7, 2020

Filmmaker Kip Oebanda similarly shared the same view on Twitter.

“Not a fan of the VFA but the play here is obvious. Duterte wants to argue that we need China for defense. China, who stole our territorial waters,” he said.

Locsin, meanwhile, previously warned against far-reaching consequences of ceasing the VFA.

Significant forms of US assistance would be at stake such as millions worth of military aid and operability of other defense pacts with the US such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Cooperation Development Agreement.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson also earlier asked Duterte to reconsider his choice.