De Lima calls Duterte’s unilateral move to rescind VFA ‘epically wrong’

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Senator Leila de Lima has denounced President Rodrigo Duterte’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by calling it a “gigantic geo-political blunder” that may be detrimental to the country’s image in the international community.

De Lima made the statement after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officially served the Notice of Termination to the United States (US) Embassy in Manila.

“Duterte’s termination of the VFA is epically wrong. It is a gigantic geo-political blunder and a grievous misstep that may further unsettle the functioning of our very own government – one that is supposedly built on constitutionalism and the principle of checks and balances,” she said.

“[The] VFA is an important cog in a whole system of defense and security arrangements with the US that includes the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) from which the Philippines has benefitted for many years,” she added. 

The Duterte administration claimed that among the reasons why Duterte has decided to unilaterally withdraw from the VFA is due to the reported move by the US government to cancel the visa of Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, a known ally of Duterte. 

In his recent public appearance, Mr. Duterte has maintained that the US government has been purportedly meddling with the country’s internal affairs, citing some US lawmakers’ demands to release De Lima, his most prominent critic.

The Senate, on the other hand, has filed Senate Resolution 37 urging Mr. Duterte to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the VFA while a thorough review of the agreement is being conducted in the Senate.

De Lima, a former justice secretary, pointed out that Mr. Duterte should seek the Senate’s concurrence before rescinding treaties and other international agreements as the Constitution recognizes the Senate to be integral into the treaty-making processes.

“I would like to place it on record that I am in support of this measure and had I been given the opportunity to vote, I would have joined its proponents,” she said in an official statement read by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on the Senate floor.

“In fact, I would even go further as to reiterate my position that treaties concurred in by the Senate should likewise require the Senate concurrence before they are abrogated by the President,” she added.

The Senate leadership is divided upon the matter. Last Feb. 11, seven of Mr. Duterte’s allies withdrew their affirmative votes and instead abstained from categorically expressing their votes regarding SR 37. The Senate resolution was, however, deemed adopted, with majority of the senators approving it.  

“I am praying for the spirit of independence and the sense of statesmanship to prevail among my colleagues at the 18th Congress as they are being called to assert the institutional role and prerogatives of the Senate in this current crisis, and in the face of an overreaching autocrat,” the lady Senator from Bicol said.

“Hindi pwedeng pabayaan lang ang isang Pangulo – lalo pa ang ganitong klaseng panggulo – to decide all by himself on vital matters like this that impinge on our national life and our standing in the international community,” she added. /Stacy Ang

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