'Good move': Locsin hails Duterte's threats to scrap VFA

MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Friday, January 24, praised President Rodrigo Duterte for threatening to scrap the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Saying it would be a test for the two countries decades-old military alliance, Locsin touted Duterte's decision as a "good move" in response to the cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's US visa.

"Good move. Visas fall under US Justice Department in the Executive Branch. Either they're serious about US-PH military alliance or not," Locsin tweeted. (US visas are under the jurisdiction of the US State Department, the counterpart of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs – not its justice department.)

Good move. Visas fall under US Justice Department in the Executive Branch. Either they're serious about US-PH military alliance or not. They can have de Lima after her trial. In fact they can pass a law making her a US citizen and part of US military so she is covered by VFA. https://t.co/KlmZyTEvqb — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 24, 2020

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, for his part, had not made a position on the possible termination of the VFA. On Friday,  Lorenzana only said he "understood" why Duterte was angered by the cancellation of Dela Rosa's visa.

"I can understand why PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte] is peeved by the cancellation of [Senator] Bato’s visa because of alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the drug war. Most specially that Bato was specifically targeted. It is a direct affront to PRRD being the architect of the drug war that he started upon his assumption of office," Lorenzana said.

He added: "He ordered Bato, then the newly installed Chief PNP [Philippine National Police], to launch the drug war and enjoined the entire PNP to do their duties and pledged to would back them up. That he would take responsibility for their official actions. That he would go to prison for them. He is just being true to his promise."

The defense chief said that with the President's threat, "the ball is in the US hand."

"Let’s see how they react to PRRD’s statement," he said.

The Philippines has long standing military ties with the US. Lorenzana himself had spent 13 years at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC as defense attaché and later on, headed the veterans' office for a decade. Under the Duterte admnistration, Lorenzana officially visited the US capital in 2018, where he met with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo.

Is this for real? Responding to Locsin's statement on Twitter, Senator Panfilo Lacson told the DFA chief, "You're obviously joking, as I am now obviously stating the obvious."

Lacson had tweeted late Thursday night, January 23, that he didn't see the "connection" between the visa cancellation – which is the prerogative of the US government – and the VFA, which went through extensive bilateral discussions, plenary debates at the Senate before it was ratified.

Locsin only replied, "I wish."

After earlier sanctions seeking to deny entry to Philippine officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima was included in the US State Department's 2020 budget, Locsin said it was the US' prerogative to deny entry to individuals as it wished, since doing so was part of "an aspect of sovereignty." 

Duterte's threats: Locsin and Lorenzana issued the remarks in response to Duterte's warning he would scrap the VFA if the US government did not "correct" the cancellation of the visa of Dela Rosa, his first Philippine National Police chief and is known as the architect of his bloody anti-illegal drug campaign. 

"I'm warning you, this is the first time: 'Pag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan, I will terminate the basis of Visiting Forces Agreement. Tapusin ko'ng putang-inang 'yan," Duterte earlier said, adding the US government had one month to respond.

(I'm giving you this first warning: If you don't correct [what you've done], I will terminate the basis of the Visiting Forces Agreement. I'll end that son of a bitch.)

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, outlined guidelines for the conduct of American troops visiting the Philippines. The agreement is the foundation for military exercises between the Philippines and its oldesy military ally, the US.

While the Senate ratified the VFA, senators said on Friday that it can be terminated without the concurrence of the Senate.

Retaliating against sanctions: Apart from this, Duterte also threatened to deny entry to more US senators who voted for a Senate resolution that seeks sanctions against Philippine officials involved in the detention of De Lima as well as the extrajudicial killings in relation to the Duterte administration's drug war.

US Senate Resolution 142, which invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, was unanimously adopted in the US Senate last January 9.

Locsin, who has repeatedly insisted that De Lima's imprisonment is "lawful," said the US "can have De Lima after her trial."

If the US regards a fat lady who should be happy to have her day in court to clear her name of charges—charges a Supreme Court of honor law graduates ruled twice as valid (as opposed to US senators merely elected)—as more important than our mutual defense well then so be it. https://t.co/xQIe8VSScy — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 24, 2020

"If the US regards a fat lady who should be happy to have her day in court to clear her name of charges...as more important than our mutual defense well then so be it," he said. 

"In fact they can pass a law making her a US citizen and part of US military so she is covered by VFA," he jibed in another tweet. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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