The abrupt termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) could deal a big blow to the country’s efforts to combat terrorism, warned a former envoy to the United States.
Jose Cuisia Jr., former Philippine ambassador to the United States, said in an Inquirer interview on Friday night that scrapping the VFA would undermine the counterterrorism efforts of the Philippine military while jeopardizing US economic assistance and tourism prospects.
“I think (President Rodrigo Duterte) should understand the implication of canceling (the VFA). For example, in terrorism. The guys who are helping, the US military men who are here to help, would have to leave,” Cuisia said.
Ratified in 1999, the VFA allows joint military exercises between the United States and the Philippines in an affirmation of their mutual defense obligation.
“The military exercises—those are going to be completely gone. So who will benefit? Of course, China. Who will suffer? The Philippine military, but the Philippine military will not dare say that,” Cuisia said.
‘Workhorses’ from US
In terms of military assistance, the former ambassador noted that the three cutters from the United States—the biggest vessels being used by the country’s Navy—are currently the “workhorses” in the West Philippine Sea, the subject of competing claims between China and the Philippines.
The United States won’t likely ask to get these back when they pull out, Cuisia said, but in all other areas, “they will have to stand down.
”President Duterte on Thursday called for the termination of the VFA following Washington’s cancellation of the US visa of former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Another factor in the President’s decision, Malacañang said on Friday, was the US Senate resolution calling for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima and the ban on the US entry of Philippine officials behind her arrest and detention.The visa dispute was something that can be addressed through diplomatic channels, Cuisia said.
In the Senate, Sen. Dick Gordon said a bigger view should have been taken, which is that the Philippines has a defense partnership with the United States.
“I’m not worried about America (but at how ending the VFA) could diminish the defense of the Philippines. Can we go it alone?” he asked.Gordon: Du30 must explain
“We say we can do it on our own, but when China’s militia—I’m directly calling it a militia—rammed a [Philippine] vessel and just left it, there was nothing we could do,” he added.
Gordon also said the President should explain his decision to scrap the VFA to the Senate which ratified the treaty after much debate and discussion as prescribed in the Constitution.
“Now if it’s suddenly terminated, the President should explain to the Senate why he is ending it. Has the factual situation changed about us needing support, especially since this is connected [to] the mutual defense pact?” Gordon asked.
How to terminate pact
Also on Saturday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he was done with the study on how to terminate the VFA and will submit his legal memorandum to Malacañang on Monday.
The contents of the memo, which was prepared with the help of Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers, cannot yet be disclosed until it was read by the President, Guevarra said, adding that the study was “limited” to the VFA and its termination, and does not deal with the “wisdom of the executive action.”
“Wisdom refers to the pros and cons of the termination. That’s political, not legal. The DOJ will deal only [with] the legal way to terminate the VFA,” he said.
Guevarra said his memo seeks to answer such questions as: Is the VFA a treaty or an executive agreement? If it’s a treaty, is Senate concurrence required for termination? Who will give the notice of termination? Is it necessary to state any ground for termination?
“The possible effects on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement may have to be studied separately by the Department of National Defense and Department of Foreign Affairs, but the DOJ will be ready to assist,” he said.
On Twitter, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that as chair of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces, he only needed to send a note signed by him announcing the termination of the VFA.
Abrogating a treaty like the VFA should not be done “on a whim, or caprice, or because you lost your temper,” Gordon said, adding that doing so would not benefit the Philippines.
“Other countries might not want to enter into an agreement with us if we end an agreement out of pique. Foreign policy is the province of the President, but I think there must always be limits to that,” Gordon said in a radio interview.
But the senator also acknowledged that the Constitution was unclear on whether Senate concurrence was needed to end a treaty, and said the matter must be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Gordon also noted that the US Senate resolution did not necessarily reflect the view of the entire US government and was merely the product of lobbying by the liberal constituents of some senators.
Sen. Koko Pimentel expressed support for Mr. Duterte’s decision to end the treaty and said Senate approval was no longer necessary.“When it comes to the termination of the treaty, it’s the executive branch that decides,” he said.
The Philippines does not even have to explain to the other party why it was terminating the treaty, Pimentel said. “But maybe as a leader of the country, the President could explain the reason for his decision.”
Pimentel, however, noted that the VFA has long been under review and that it was time to look at it closer.
“What is this for? Does it help the country or does it make us a magnet for attacks from forces angry at the US?” he asked.