Philippines and US in talks for possible new deal in lieu of VFA

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The Philippines and the United States are now having talks for a possible agreement  in lieu of the terminated  Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez revealed.  

Romualdez  and US Ambassador Sung Kim are trying to find ways to craft another deal to replace the VFA.

“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come out with something similar perhaps again… still following the President’s thinking about the sovereignty issue,” Romualdez revealed,  during a forum called “Post-VFA: Alliance Quo Vadis,”  held in Makati City.  

Romualdez  said they are currently looking into  the Philippines’ agreement with Japan and Australia as possible reference for the soon-to-be crafted new deal with the US.

“The Japan SOFA (status of forces agreement) is one of those recommended for study and also I think we have SOVFA (status of visiting forces agreement) with Australia. These are the two existing agreements with other countries,” he said.

“At the moment, I’m not at liberty to say what or where we are. But this is still being studied and recommendation will be made to the President (Rodrigo Duterte),” he said.

During the open forum, Romualdez said their discussions focus on creating a template that will be presented to the President.

“It is not yet presented to the President. This is merely an option for him to see whether it is possible,” he said.

He said the military will present the proposed agreement to the President.

He also  said the termination of the VFA will not mean the end of the relationship between the Philippines and US.

“My responsiblity is to continue to assure our friends in Washington DC that this is something that we have to face, the decision of the President. So we have to start moving forward and continue our relationship.  It is not an end all and be all,” he said.  

Duterte had ordered  the termination of the VFA after the  United States government cancelled  the visa of his ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa over his alleged involvement in the extrajudicial killings during his stint as Philippine National Police chief.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ termination of the VFA  with its longtime ally the United States will render its other military pacts with the Americans useless and makes it vulnerable to possible armed aggression, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on  Friday.  

Carpio said Duterte’s next move might be to rescind the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), the country’s two remaining pacts with the US.

“The President knew with the termination [of VFA], the EDCA would be useless, the MDT would be hollow, but the President of course still proceeded,” Carpio said.

The MDT, signed in 1951, mandates the Philippines and the US to come to each other’s aid if either country is under attack.

Meanwhile, EDCA, which allows the prepositioning of US defense equipment and materials in strategic locations in the Philippines, is a 2014 executive agreement envisioned to advance the implementation of the MDT.

The treaties are part of US domestic law after President Donald Trump approved the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) in 2018.  

“The US Congress reiterated, confirmed that the US government is committed under the MDT, under any all related and subsequent bilateral security arrangements, including EDCA. So in this law, the US said we are making the MDT, VFA, EDCA as part of US law. We are now bound by this,” Carpio said.

Without these treaties, it’s “practically inviting the enemy to seize whatever Philippine island, rock and reef it desires to seize,” said Carpio, a staunch critic of Chinese incursions in the disputed West Philippine Sea.  

The former justice also criticized Duterte’s recent remark that the Philippine military is pursuing self-reliance or it either becomes a US territory or a Chinese province.

Malacañang had said the President’s remark was a joke.

“Under the UN charter, collective self-defense is allowed. We are allowed to defend our country against armed aggression but we can enter into alliances to defend our country,” he said.

Regional superpowers Japan and South Korea, Carpio said, even rely to the US because of its nuclear weapons.

“Against China which is actually occupying and invading our territory in the West Philippine Sea, our maritime zones, the only ally we can hope to deter China is of course the US. But the President has decided to terminate the VFA knowing that it will make EDCA and the MDT useless,” Carpio also said./Stacy Ang

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