MANILA, Philippines — The termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) may ultimately put an end to all Philippine-US agreements, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Friday.
The former top diplomat appealed to the Congress and the Supreme Court, both co-equal branches of the government, to "resist this tragedy" that may also end the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.
"What is unfolding is a national tragedy which should
be resisted. As a democratic and republican country, we do not believe that one man alone can make this damaging choice for our people," Del Rosario said at a post-VFA forum organized by think tank
Stratbase ADR Institute.
Del Rosario pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte's directive to abrogate the VFA removes one of the focal points underpinning the decades-old alliance between the Philippines and the US.
The former DFA chief, who led the Philippines in its arbitration against China's expansive claims in the South China Sea, stressed that the country's alliance with Washington helped the country maintain its integrity against foreign aggression, including Chinese incursions in the disputed waterway.
Terminating the VFA would
serve to actualize our pivot towards China against the strong and vehement objections of our people," Del Rosario said.
Admitting that the VFA is an "imperfect agreement," Del Rosario said ending it would interrupt the Philippines'
benefits from the Mutual Defense Treaty such as joint training and exercises, the military's modernization,
assistance during natural calamities and having
oartners in counter-terrorism efforts.
The former top diplomat recalled that the US provided quick relief response when super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) struck the country in 2013, which was
due to the VFA. While other countries also wanted to provide
assistance, the lack of legal arrangements constrained their entry to the Philippines.
"We must reject the notion that maintaining the Philippine-US is subservience to the US. In the international community, countries must forge alliances to protect their own interests," Del Rosario said.
Maintaining the alliance between the Philippines and the US would be for the sake of the Filipino people who want to protect the country's territory, he added.
"We must be with responsible with whom we share our core values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. To stand otherwise is not what Filipinos are; it is not what we do; it is not what is right," Del Rosario said.
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio shared the same sentiments on maintaining alliances to defend Philippine sovereignty.
Carpio said President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncements that there are only two choices — becoming a territory of the US or a province of China — is false.
"It's a false choice because it is not true that we should be
either a Chinese province or a US territory because we can have alliances," Carpio said in the same forum.
President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.
That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.
Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".
The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.
Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.
Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos
Military exercises with the US wthin the 180 days from the notice of termination will continue as planned, radio dzMM reports, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Activist women's group Gabriela calls for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 in light of the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement that the Philippines sent the US on Monday.
"Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA's termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises," Gabriela, which has long protested against the VFA as well as the continuing presence of American troops in the Philippines, says in a release.
There are more than 300 military exercises and exchanges scheduled between the Philippine and American militaries this year.
Malacañang, the decision to
terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is "a move in the right direction that should have
been done a long time ago."
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Defense Secretary
Mark Esper's remarks that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA was "
a move in the wrong direction" is expected as the defense pact favors Washington.
According to Panelo, relying on another country for defenses against enemies of the would eventually "weaken" and "stagnate" the Philippines' defense capabilities.
"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," Panelo said in a statement.
Senators are free to bring the issue of VFA termination to the Supreme Court, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says, pointing out however that although the 1987 Constitution requires Senate concurrence on the ratification of treaties, "there is nothing in the constitution that requires the concurrence of the Senate when it comes to termination of treaties."
He adds that "whether the president should at least consult the Senate is manifestly a political question that the Supreme Court will certainly refuse to resolve."
The Philippines' termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement is a "move in the wrong direction," US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says in remarks published by the US Department of Defense.
"I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as — as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese, 'You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms.'," he says.
"I think it's a move in the wrong direction for — for, again, for the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries."
He says that the move would affect efforts to "bolster our presence and compete with them (China) in this era of great power competition."
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