PH, US in talks for new VFA
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and the United States are already in talks to craft a new and more equitable Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and are looking at similar pacts involving Japan and Australia as templates.
“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come out with something similar perhaps,” Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said at a forum hosted by the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute in Makati City.
Romualdez said the talks were looking to resolve sovereignty issues in the 1999 VFA that President Rodrigo Duterte abrogated on Feb. 11.
He said US Ambassador Sung Kim was in Washington exploring the possibility of a new agreement.
“He’s doing my job in Washington and I’m doing his job here. It’s working quite well for us and we’ve been talking almost every day,” Romualdez said.
“My responsibility,” he said, “is to continue to assure our friends in Washington that this is something that we have to face, the decision of the President. So we have to start moving forward and continue our relationship. It is not an end-all and be-all.”
Romualdez said the US-Japanese Status of Forces Agreement of 1960 was “one of those recommended for study” as well as the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) of 2007 that took effect in 2012.
Model for new deal
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed that the Australian SOVFA was indeed being considered as a model for the new deal with the United States.
“A rose by another name smells as sweet and the same fist in an iron glove—be it bronze or steel—hits & hurts just as bad,” Locsin posted on Twitter.
The foreign secretary said the main issues include jurisdiction over personnel but he believed that would become less important as the United States continues to develop artificial intelligence (AI) weaponry, which it has been working on for several years now.
“Death from above needs no boots on the ground,” added Locsin, who had earlier told senators that there were other diplomatic arrangements that could “give muscle” to the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 underlying the country’s security ties with the United States.
But former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario believed that the President’s decision to scrap the 1999 VFA was a “national tragedy.”
“What is unfolding before us 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 also at the Makati forum.
“There is no rationality for such a move except to put into reality the President’s personal sentiments when he publicly declared that ‘I simply love (Chinese President) Xi Jinping,” Del Rosario said.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio also questioned at the same forum Duterte’s motive for terminating the VFA.
EDCA, MTD next?
“What is the motive of the President in terminating the VFA? He said he wants to make an independent foreign policy. At least independent from the US, but dependent on China for all time and be a protectorate of Russia,” he lamented.
Carpio suspected that the President would soon seek to terminate the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and eventually the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty itself.
“So the next target of the President, I believe, is to terminate the MDT and Edca. [Presidential spokesperson Salvador] Panelo already intimated this. He said to be consistent with his (Duterte’s) stand, then all treaties must go,” Carpio said.
“If the Supreme Court will rule that the President acting alone can terminate a treaty, then the MDT is a treaty, it can be terminated. Edca is not even a treaty, it’s just an executive agreement, he can terminate it without any… there is no question about it,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.