(Eagle News) — President Rodrigo Duterte has given instructions for the Department of Foreign Affairs to transmit the notice of termination to the United States government, giving formal notice to end the 22-year old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), according to his spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
The VFA, which was signed in February 1998, has the primary effect of allowing the US government to retain jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel acuused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are “of particular importance to the Philippines.”
Panelo said on Friday, Feb. 7, that President Dutere has already instructed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin to “send notice of termination to the US government.”
According to the provisions of the VFA, “the agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
President Duterte’s instructions for Secretary Locsin to formally notify the US government regarding the VFA termination came a day after the DFA chief said in a Senate hearing that he has already prepared the transmittal of the termination notice, but that this was not yet sent as he was awaiting instructions from the President.
“I have prepared a notice of termination but it has not been sent upon the orders of the President,” Locsin said in a Senate hearing Thursday.
Under the VFA, US military personnel are exempted from passport and visa regulations upon entering and departing the Philippines.
The VFA also covers US civilian personnel who are likewise exempted “from visa requirements but shall present, upon demand, valid passports upon entry and departure of the Philippines.”
The US government has earlier described the VFA as a “mutually beneficial and useful framework that strengthens the foundation of military-to-military cooperation and the security relationship between our two countries.”
Since the signing of the VFA in 1998, dozens of joint military exercises have been conducted between the the U.S. and the Philippines.
According to the US embassy in an earlier statement, such exercises “have brought significant humanitarian assistance and community service to the Philippines.”
The President’s decision to terminate the VFA was issued after the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
Dela Rosa’s US visa cancellation came after a US senate resolution that called on US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against Philippine officials who were “responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of” Senator Leila De Lima.
This was allegedly pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The sanctions which the US senators asked include the revocation of US visas and freezing of assets.
Panelo said the President is scheduled to have a phone call with US President Donald Trump “anytime soon.”
He, however, did not mention the possible issues that might be discussed between Duterte and Trump.
On January 30, Panelo said terminating the VFA is a “studied” and “tactical” decision.
Panelo also said Duterte had no choice but scrap the VFA because of the “brazen interference” and “disrespect” of the US Senate for the Philippines’ judicial system. (with a PNA report)