MANILA, Philippines — A ranking Palace official clarified on Monday that President Duterte’s decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States was not made only on a whim nor the cancellation of Senator Bato dela Rosa’s US visa.
The move, as Malacañang Spokesman Sal Panelo insists, was a result of “a series of disrespectful acts” by some American senators.
Duterte has announced a plan to terminate the VFA, a 1998 pact that allows Filipino and American soldiers to hold joint drills in the Philippines, following the cancellation of the US visa of political ally Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa was formerly the national police chief when the administration’s bloody anti-narcotics campaign was launched and during its re-launch dubbed as “Tokhang Reloaded.”
Gen. Bato, as he is fondly called, said he would ask Duterte to just let the issue pass but admitted that the final decision on the VFA lies with the President.
And since then, critics chided Duterte for his readiness to drop a bilateral defense agreement only because of a personal issue.
But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo stepped in and clarified the issue.
He said the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa was not the only reason for the possible cancellation of the VFA.
Rather, the Spokesman said, “cancellation of Senator Bato’s visa was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an accumulation, a series of disrespectful acts by some of the US senators.”
“It’s not, as expressed by some, a decision on a whim. It is a studied response to acts the President deems to be not only an intrusion but an assault to the sovereignty of this country” Panelo added.
Panelo then rattled off four developments that prompted Duterte to call for the scrapping of the VFA.
And these are:
1. the demand of some American senators to release detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima;
2. the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines;
3. the introduction of a US national budget provision that barred individuals behind De Lima’s detention from entering the US and the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s US visa and
4. the US Senate resolution on the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines.
Panelo explained further that the US Senate’s action “was based on a cycle of lies peddled by critics and detractors of the President.”
Penned by three US Senators, the US Senate Resolution 142 condemned the Philippine government for the “arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political leaders who exercise their rights to freedom of expression” and called for the immediate release of De Lima, who was arrested and detained in 2017 over drug-related charges.
It also carried a provision banning entry to the US of Philippine officials involved in De Lima’s incarceration.
The detained senator then countered saying the charges against her are nothing but “political persecution” against critics of the administration. Malacanang and other Philippines Senators including SP Tito Sotto assailed the American senators’ demand to release De Lima as “an intrusion and an insult to the judiciary system of this country.”
In retaliation, Duterte also banned the three American senators – Richard Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Markey of Massachusetts – from entry to the Philippines.
“To those who are thinking that this is a rushed judgment, let me remind them that this President is a tactical and thinking President who has never lost an election and who has tread a path that ordinary mortals, as well as even those pseudo-intellectuals, have not tread,” said Panelo. The Palace Spokesman added that the US should have stated its reasons behind the entry ban and the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa “as a matter of courtesy between countries who are allied.”
The VFA can be cancelled anytime without the approval of the Senate veteran Senator Panfilo Lacson said. (ISMAEL AMIGO/CPH)