What now VFA?
By Rose de la Cruz
Now that President Duterte has signed the documents– and the Department of Foreign Affairs officially transmitted the same to the US Embassy here– abrogating the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, what happens to the country after 180 days when the termination takes effect?
To answer this question, let us look at what our country gained from the over 20 years that VFA was enforced.
The 1998 VFA between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country contains controversial provisions such as lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin earlier said he would insist on negotiating these issues should the VFA be reviewed.
With the Philippines’ formal notice signed, the termination will take place 180 days or 6 months after the US received written notification. In the meantime, Article IX of the agreement, states the VFA remains in force until the end of the time period.
Specifically, the provision on Duration and Termination reads: “This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
At the Senate hearing last week, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said “If the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot stand alone, because the basis of the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) is the VFA, and if the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot be effective. If the VFA and EDCA are no longer effective, then the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty), as mentioned by Locsin, would be inutile and would serve no purpose.”
The Senate approved a resolution Monday to thoroughly review the VFA before coming to a decision regarding its fate, but this was also overrun by the delivery of the termination notice.
Spokesman Salvador Panelo explains: “As the President said, it’s about time we rely on our own resources,” he added.
Bloomberg said that while the Philippine Constitution requires at least 2/3 of senators to vote to approve an international treaty, it is silent on ending one. The Supreme Court is considering whether Duterte has the power to end treaties himself or if Congress should be involved — an issue that goes back to his unilateral decision in 2018 to withdraw from the International Criminal Court over its investigation of his war on drugs. Duterte and his allies in Congress say he has the power, but it would take a while:
- The Mutual Defense Treaty states it may be terminated by either side one year after notice has been given to the other party. What counts as “notice” is unclear. It was ratified by the Senate of each country.
- The Visiting Forces Agreement is seen as an official treaty in the Philippines because it was approved by the Senate, and as an executive agreement in the U.S., which means it didn’t require ratification. It states it can be ended with 180- day notice given in writing to the other party.
- The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is considered an executive agreement by both sides, signed by the Obama administration with President Benigno Aquino, Duterte’s predecessor. It has an initial term of 10 years, though it remains in force unless either side terminates it with a year’s written notice.
Scrapping the military deal, Locsin said, may also dilute U.S. commitment to other pacts, affect trade relations and make it more difficult for the Philippines to access millions of dollars in U.S. defense aid.
The Philippines has periodically reassessed its relationship with the U.S., which ruled the Southeast Asian nation as a territory for nearly 50 years after it was ceded by Spain. After World War War II, Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, near Manila, were the largest U.S. military outpost in the Western Pacific. The 1947 Military Bases Agreement, originally a 99-year deal, was revised several times to give the Philippines more compensation or sovereignty. An amendment was added that allowed for it to end in 1991. As the deadline approached, leaders from both countries sought to extend the pact.
In a Senate hearing last week, Locsin warned that abrogating the security accord with Washington would undermine Philippine security and foster aggression in the disputed South China Sea. U.S. military presence in the strategic waterway has served as a crucial counterweight to China, which has claimed virtually the entire sea.
Defense ties between the Philippines and former colonial ruler the United States go back to the early 1950s and are governed by a Mutual Defense Treaty (MTD), which remains intact, along with an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) made under the Obama administration.
The VFA accords legal status to thousands of U.S. troops rotated in the country for humanitarian assistance and military exercises, dozens of which take place annually.
Despite reassurances from his generals, Duterte has long accused U.S. forces of conducting clandestine activities. In a rambling speech on Monday he said U.S. nuclear weapons were being stored in his country.
He has argued that the presence of U.S. forces makes the Philippines a potential target for aggression.
Reuters said Duterte favors warmer ties with China and Russia than the United States and has praised those countries and inflated their military contributions and donations, which are dwarfed by the $1.3 billion spent provided by the United States since 1998.
Last Feb. 6, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Philippines should not rush scrapping the Visiting Force Agreement with the US, saying that can be done later “in a manner that is not rushed, but planned and programmed, and not out of pique.”
“Certainly not this time when an intruder has built and continues to build what have become the bases of our insecurity right under our belly,” he says.
“If we abrogate the VFA, this sharp contrast will not escape our people’s attention: On how we could let the red carpet stay for someone who has taken our land while booting the one who has been on our side in protesting such occupation,” he also says.