Scrapping VFA to discourage defense pacts with other countries, says maritime law expert
MANILA, Philippines — Scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States “just because somebody loses his visa” will discourage other countries from entering into defense pacts with the Philippines, a maritime law expert warned on Monday.
Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, said that other countries that might be interested in having similar agreements with the Philippines are also allies of the US.
“If they see our performance, shall we say, with the United States, that would really raise questions on their part whether they should enter into similar agreements with us which can be so easily broken and set aside practically on a whim without a warning,” he said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.
“They also have to have credibility and consistency essentially in our policies, and if it is something like this that can change every administration so easily just because somebody loses his visa, they will not put not much [trust], they will not see us as a very reliable partner. That will put them off of entering into these kinds [of agreements],” he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte on January 23, 2020 threatened to terminate the VFA with the US if it does not reverse the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s visa.
Dela Rosa was the President’s first appointee for Philippine National Police chief when he assumed office in 2016.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on February 7 that Duterte had already instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to send the US an official notice on the termination of the VFA.
A day later, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Foreign Affairs chief Teodoro Locsin Jr. had not received the order, describing the information “fake news.”
Panelo, however, said there was “neither contradiction nor inconsistency” between his and Lorenzana’s statements, saying that he was only quoting the President when he said he would instruct Medialdea to order the DFA to send the notice.
“To be clear, this representation did not say that the directive of the President to the Executive Secretary has already been issued or given,” said Panelo.
Batongbacal called this supposed confusion in the statements among Cabinet members as a sign that scrapping the VFA is a “surprise” move.
“It’s completely unplanned and undiscussed even though it might have been thought of for a long time. After all, you know that the VFA, Mutual Defense Treaty, and basically the US-Philippines alliance has been a problem for China which is President Duterte’s friend as he calls it,” he explained.
“We know that that has been one of the things that China would really welcome, that he scraps. Even if this has been thought of for a very long time, it appears that this event was completely unplanned and caught the other secretaries also by surprise,” he added.