Locsin backpedals, now says ending VFA to ‘negatively impact’ PH-US ties
MANILA, Philippines — After previously saying that the termination of the visiting forces agreement with the United States is a “good move,” the country’s chief diplomat is now calibrating his stance, saying a “vigorous review” of the accord is needed.
In his opening statement during the hearing called by the Senate committee on foreign relations, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the termination of the VFA would “negatively impact” the country’s defense, security efforts and the Philippines’ overall bilateral relations with the western power.
“The termination of the VFA must be weighed in terms of the overall national interest of the country,” Locsin told the Senate panel, which is looking into the implementation of the VFA and other defense pacts.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact the Philippines’ defense and security arrangements as well as the overall bilateral relations of the Philippines with the US and perhaps even on the subregional and multilateral level,” he added.
Should the VFA be terminated, Locsin said it would also affect other military agreements between the Philippines and the United States.
He said that the VFA “ensures operability” of other Philippine-US defense pacts, including the Enhanced Defense Corporation Agreement (EDCA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
“It has been proposed to abrogate the VFA with the US. It has also been said that the mutual defense treaty and presumably the EDCA are to remain in place, that is not entirely up to us,” the foreign affairs chief said.
“For the MDT, VFA is a substance that makes it real and makes it work. The EDCA, on the other hand, is hinged on the VFA. There is essentially no practical use for an EDCA in the absence of the VFA which is the legal framework for the presence of US military personnel in military exercises and actual military responses under the MDT. Without them (VFA and EDCA) the MDT is just a piece of paper,” he explained.
‘Compromised’ friendly relations
According to Locsin, the scrapping of VFA could compromise the “existing goodwill and friendly” relations between the two countries.
“The historically robust and friendly relations between the Philippines and the US are further strengthened by the high level of trust and confidence between the Philippines and the United States,” he said.
“With the termination of the VFA, overall relations may be adversely affected and various areas of bilateral and multilateral involving both countries’ cooperation may be put in jeopardy,” he added.
The country’s top diplomat also said the two nations’ economic relations “may be affected” if VFA is abrogated.
This, as he noted that the United States is the Philippines’ biggest export market, third-largest trading partner, and fourth-largest import source.
He further said the Philippines “enjoys preferential treatment” on its exports to the United States.
“The Philippines currently enjoys a trade surplus with the U.S.,” he added.
Trade, investment, tourism
Terminating the VFA could also put the “healthy state” of the two countries’ bilateral trade, investments and tourism at risk, according to Locsin.
The United States is the country’s fifth-largest source of investments, he said.
“The US is also the Philippines’ third tourism market with over one million tourist arrivals in 2018,” Locsin added.
Moreover, the foreign affairs chief took note of the grants given by the United States to the Philippines.
“The U.S. is the largest source of grants, there are no loans, accounting for 36.89 (percent) share of total grants in 2018 at US$ 886.47 million,” he noted.
He then pointed out that U.S. assistance facilitated by the VFA could “dry up” should the military pact be revoked by the Philippines.
“From 2016 to 2019, the US provided substantial development assistance in the amount of US$ 336.306 million. This amount funded programs and scholarships and seminars and projects on education, health, environment, agriculture, fisheries, trade, labor and governance,” he enumerated.
While the Philippine government could “terminate the VFA anytime,” Locsin said that “the continuance of the agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits.”
By the end of Locsin’s opening statement, Senator Francis Tolentino asked the DFA Secretary if his agency favors a termination or just a review of the VFA.
“The DFA, at this point, (has) no preference to any of these options. But at this point, I think that a review, a vigorous review of the Visiting Forces Agreement is called for,” Locsin said in response to Tolentino’s question.
Locsin earlier called a “good move” Duterte’s threat to cancel the VFA to see if the country’s long-time military ally is “serious” about its alliance with the Philippines.
Edited by EDV
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