Philippines serves notice of VFA termination

MANILA, Philippines, February 12 ------ Despite last-minute appeals from senators and other officials, President Duterte has officially notified the United States of his intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). On orders from Duterte, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. sent the notice of termination to the US embassy in Manila yesterday. Locsin said the deputy chief of mission of the embassy received the letter.

“As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,” the foreign affairs chief said. “The notice of termination has been sent and the effectivity of that would be 180 days from the receipt of the US government of such notice,” presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said at a press briefing yesterday in Malacañang. He said Duterte relayed his order to Locsin through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

Panelo said such notification could come from either of the two parties and there is no need to respond. He said the President has emphasized every deal with foreign countries – not only with the US – should be based on equality and fairness. “As the President has been saying, if we have to deal with other countries, we have to deal on the basis of equality and fairness. Any agreement should not be one-sided,” Panelo said.

When told that the President decided on the basis of the act of the US Senate – and not the executive – demanding the release of Sen. Leila de Lima, Panelo noted that the administration sees it as a collective move of the US government. “Even then, still that’s the voice of US government speaking to us through an equal branch of the three branches of government in the US,” Panelo said. “I think so, banning by the immigration authorities... Senator – or rather cancelling US visa of Senator Bato, is an executive function… not the Senate of the US, immigration iyon eh, executive iyon,” he added.

“He (Trump) may not be behind it, but it’s the executive department – immigration authorities pa rin,” Panelo added. Duterte first threatened to terminate the VFA in reaction to the US cancellation of the visa issued to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa. He had said he would push through with the scrapping of the VFA unless the US did some “correction” on the visa issue. At a meeting with local government officials Monday night, Duterte revealed that there were efforts from the US government to “save” the agreement but that he had already made up his mind.

Some members of the Cabinet met with Duterte in a closed-door conference in a last ditch effort to put on hold the plan to terminate the agreement and make him agree to at least put the 20-year-old pact under review. “The President has already made up his mind, he feels that the VFA is not helpful in terms of the relationship because… He just had to keep on going back to the sovereignty issue… essentially that is what it is,” a Malacañang insider told The STAR.

Medialdea and Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez were among the officials in the closed-door meeting. “(The President) was very open about the discussion about the current development... and he was informed that essentially, the Trump administration really values the relationship which President Trump and President Duterte have,” the source added. “As a lawyer, he knows that sovereignty is something which should remain in the country and the issue of sovereignty is quite clear in the VFA… and the US senators brought up this issue, pinalaki nila ang (they blew up the) issue... It’s also a sovereignty issue,” the source added.

With the VFA coming to an end, Panelo said a probe might be launched on reports that a US submarine possibly carrying nuclear weapons had been detected in the waters of Palawan by the Philippine Navy. On Monday, Duterte said the submarine docked in the area without seeking permission from the government.