Locsin heeds Duterte, starts 'terminating' VFA

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Upon President Rodrigo Duterte's words, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr announced on Friday, January 24, that he would "start the process" of terminating the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Locsin made the statement on Twitter as he said he was leaving for Washington, DC, "on unrelated matters."

"DFA Philippines Leaving for Wash DC on unrelated matters. But called DND [Department of National Defense] Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana as vice chair – I am chair of VFA – to start process of terminating USFVA [US VFA]," Locsin said.

He added, "Step 1 calling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because on our side it is a treaty; on US side Executive Agreement."

Locsin's sweeping reaction stemmed from President Rodrigo Duterte's renewed threats to "terminate" the Philippines-US VFA following the US decision to cancel the visa of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa. Dela Rosa, Duterte's first police who was the architect  of his bloody anti-illegal drug campaign.

Locsin put Duterte's words in motion after the Philippine President warned the US government it had one month to "correct" its actions taken with regard to Dela Rosa's canceled visa. (READ: 'Good move': Locsin hails Duterte's threats to scrap VFA)

@DFAPHL Leaving for Wash DC on unrelated matters. But called @dndphl Sec Lorenzana as Vice Chair—I am Chair of VFA—to start process of terminating USFVA. Step 1 calling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because on our side it is a treaty; on US side Executive Agreement. — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 24, 2020

The Department of Justice has been "tasked to study the proper procedure to terminate the VFA," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters on Friday. 

"We are doing it now," he added. 

Friends, partners, allies. The Philippines and US have long standing military ties. The VFA, which took effect in 1999, outlined guidelines for the conduct of American troops visiting the Philippines and is the foundation for military exercises between the Philippines and the US.

Locsin likened the termination of the VFA to Duterte's decision to withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

"There is a view which I think I shared once – on pulling out of ICC as I did as UN ambassador – that while Senate concurrence is required to make a treaty; none is required to terminate it which is an entirely personal Presidential power. But that's just a view," he said.

Locsin said he notified the Senate "out of courtesy." 

Hey, it's even simpler than Del thought. No need for any Senate participation but I out of courtesy choose to inform it nonetheless as I am trying to do but can't get a line because Dennis UY's telco isn't operating yet so I'm stuck sending smoke signals here where no cell site. https://t.co/IKEbJQYD6N — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 24, 2020

There is a view which I think I shared once—on pulling out of ICC as I did as UN ambassador—that while Senate concurrence is required to make a treaty; none is required to terminate it which is an entirely personal Presidential power. But that's just a view. https://t.co/Vylab2Qt9W — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) January 24, 2020

Senators said on Friday that such was indeed the case – there's no need for Senate concurrence to terminate the VFA.

 While Senate rarification was needed to make the VFA valid (which the Senate did during Erap presidency) it can now be terminated without concurrence of the Senate. |

The President's limits. With the VFA hanging in the balance, an abrogation of the agreement raises questions on the line between Duterte’s power as president and the function of Congress as check and balance.

The Duterte administration's abrupt withdrawal from the ICC had put front and center debates on the Constitution. Section 21, Article VII of the Constitution says: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”

The provision, however, discusses only the entry into a treaty, but is silent on withdrawal.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, a member of the Senate's foreign relations committee, highlighted the disproportionate response of the Duterte administration.

"A US visa is a conditional authorization granted to a foreigner. It may be cancelled without explanation or justification. The VFA is a bilateral agreement between the Ph and the US that went through some careful and diplomatic discussion. Pray tell, where is the connection?" he said. – 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.

image