Philippines formally sends notice to the United States to pull out from  VFA

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The Philippine government  on Tuesday has formally notified the United States government it is pulling out of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)  that the treaty allies signed in 1998.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the, “The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement.”

Locsin made the confirmation on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, adding that the US government has already received the notice.

“As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,” he added.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay earlier announced on Twitter that Locsin had already signed the notice.

“On the order of the President, thru Execitive Secretary Medialdea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Locsin signed today the notice of termination of the VFA, which will be delivered to the US Embassy in Manila fortwith,” he said.

Presidential Spokesman Salvardo Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte gave the instructions on Monday evening.

The termination of the agreement, which governs the conduct of American troops in the country, will take effect 180 days after the US government receives the notice.

For his part, Senator Panfilo Lacson expressed dismay over the decision of President Duterte.

“Like it or not, bad or good, nothing much can be done now but do a 180-day countdown upon receipt of the notice by Washington. What is certain is that the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned,” Lacson said.

“Having said that, there’s no more intelligence information sharing in our fight against domestic and foreign terrorist acts, no more US military aid and financing that accounts for a good 52% of what they extend to the whole Asia-Pacific region.”

“That may not include other intangible economic benefits and security from external threats in the West Philippine Sea, as well as humanitarian aid in times of disasters, epidemics and other crises,” Lacson said.

The US has yet to issue a statement on the latest development.

On Monday, a US official warned that the VFA termination, which was still being planned at the time of his remarks, will affect hundreds of military-to-military engagements between Manila and Washington.

“The United States has about 300 engagements and exercises that we conduct bilaterally with the Philippines,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper said in a teleconference interview from Singapore.

During  the past, Duterte complained about the US, the latest of which involved the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa.

While there was no explanation on the visa cancellation, Dela Rosa himself said it might be related to claims that he is involved in the extrajudicial killings linked to the drug war.

Even before this, Duterte has been pursuing stronger relations with China and Russia.

The transcript of Cooper’s interview quoted him as saying “there is a significant amount of resources that had been invested” in the two countries’ relationship.

“I don’t think anyone in the government of the Philippines would want to put at risk the numerous engagements,” Cooper said.

The 300 engagements include joint military exercises and port calls between Filipino and American soldiers.

“This is where that impact would probably be mostly felt, and this is why it’s a worthy conversation to have with our Philippine interlocutors, is that of all the engagements, all the freedom of navigation operations, all the exercises, all the joint training, having U.S. military personnel in port, on the ground, on the flight line, does require that we have a mechanism that allows that, and that’s why the VFA is so important.”

“So I imagine if one was sitting in Manila, that regardless if they’re in ministerial capacity or if they’re actually in an operational service capacity, they do not want to see any of these engagements or exercises either be reduced or disappear,” he said.

Cooper said there is already a tentative schedule for a Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in March this year.

“Certainly the Visiting Forces Agreement would be part of that dialogue, but it’ll also be part of the broader commitments that we have with each other,” he said, mentioning the existing Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Cooper said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to the Philippines last year was already a sign of “recommitment at ministerial levels.”

Asked if the US is worried that the Philippines will forge closer ties with Russia or China, Cooper said, “We don’t want a partner to put themselves in a position where an introduction of, say, significant Chinese or Russian platforms or systems put at risk either their credit, their finances, or even put at risk their own tech – not just ours, but their own technology and their own military capabilities.”

The VFA is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty of the US and the Philippines./Stacy  Ang

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