US welcomes PH decision to suspend termination of Visiting Forces Agreement

Marje Pelayo   •   June 3, 2020   •   304

MANILA, Philippines — The United States on Tuesday (June 2) welcomed the decision of the Philippines to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The Department of Foreign Affairs on June 1 informed the US Embassy that the Philippine government is suspending the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement for at least six months.

With this, the US hopes for the two nations’ continued security and defense cooperation in the future.

“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teddy Locsin earlier tweeted a copy of the diplomatic note he sent to the US Embassy regarding the decision and noted that the suspension of the scrapping of the military accord was “upon the President’s instruction.”

On February 11, Locsin sent the formal notice of termination of VFA to the US Embassy, from which began the 180-day countdown to the official end of the VFA.

Suspension of VFA abrogation won’t affect senators’ SC petition, Drilon says

Robie de Guzman   •   June 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday lauded the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

“This sudden policy change is a welcome development. The unhampered implementation of the VFA will serve the interest of our country, particularly with regard to the preservation of our rights over parts of the West Philippine Sea,” Drilon said in a statement.

He said the “abrupt” abrogation of the VFA as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte last February – which was done amid the increasing aggressiveness and bullying of China – was “disadvantageous” to the country.

“What the country truly needs is a stable foreign policy that promotes our interest,” he added.

Drilon, however, said this development will not affect the Senate’s petition, urging the Supreme Court to rule on the upper chamber’s role in the withdrawal of international treaties.

“This turnaround does not affect the case that we filed before the Supreme Court. The petition we filed is for declaratory relief and mandamus where we asked the Supreme Court to uphold the power of the Senate over treaty termination,” he said,

“The fact that the VFA is reinstated will not render our case moot and academic. The case stands,” he added.

On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., said the Philippine government has informed the US government of its intent to suspend for six months the termination of the military accord “upon the instruction of the president” and “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

Senators eyeing to file SC petition vs VFA abrogation next week – Lacson

Robie de Guzman   •   February 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senators may file before the Supreme Court next week the petition questioning the country’s termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States without the concurrence of the Senate, Senator Panfilo Lacson said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Lacson said they are now finalizing the petition before taking it to the high court.

Next week ipa-file yan. We’re not sure yet who among the senators will sign the petition as co-petitioners. But I for one will join the SP (Senate President Vicente Sotto III) in the filing of the petition as a co-petitioner,” he said.

Sotto earlier said that some senators from the majority and minority blocs are interested in joining them in contesting the scrapping of the military pact.

They believe that it is only the Supreme Court that can rule with finality on the issue since the Philippine Constitution is “silent” when it comes to the termination of treaties and international agreements.

Under the Constitution, the Senate’s concurrence is required before a treaty can be ratified.

The Senate has filed a similar petition in the SC in 2018 asserting the upper chamber’s right to have a say in President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to pull out the Philippines from the International Criminal Court.

Aside from senators, Lacson also claimed that a number of Cabinet members “have apprehensions and reservations” about Duterte’s decision to scrap the VFA.

“Nag-e-express sila pero lagi sila nananantsa ba, na kung how to bring it to his attention, how to dissuade him from proceeding sa abrogation. And sa tingin lang mukhang made up ang mind ni PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). But there are times na medyo parang lumalambot. But that’s where we are right now,” he said.

“Ang mga nakausap namin halos unanimous sila magsabi, not really against, but meron silang apprehensions and reservations sa pag-abrogate. Wala pa akong nakausap na all-out in supporting PRRD to abrogate,” he added.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

Earlier this month, Duterte ordered the formal termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The military deal will be effectively terminated on August 9 or 180 days from the US’ receipt of the notice of termination.

US, PH soldiers build two classrooms in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Robie de Guzman   •   February 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Two new classrooms jointly built by United States and Philippine troops have been opened in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The new classrooms were inaugurated on February 19, at the Malatgao National Elementary School, the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

US Navy Lt. Joshua Moore said the new learning facilities, built by American and Filipino soldiers under arrangements through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), will be used by over 100 students residing in the community.

“This project provides a much-needed schoolhouse for the Malatgao National Elementary School in Palawan, which will be utilized by over 120 students,” Moore was quoted as saying in the statement.

“We are proud to assist this community working hand-in-hand with our Filipino counterparts,” he added.

Under the VFA, US and Philippine troops participate in war and disaster response drills and assist in humanitarian projects like erecting multi-purpose buildings or helping repair schools.

The deal, which came into force in 1999, was terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte last week. The notice of termination will take effect after 180 days.

The US Embassy said that in the last four years, its Navy engineers, known as Seabees, have completed 24 humanitarian projects across the Philippines.  

These projects include single- and double-room classrooms, water catchment systems, multipurpose school huts, and multipurpose communal buildings.

Joint construction operations such as these between the Philippine Navy Seabees, U.S. Navy Seabees, Philippine Marines, and local Barangays serve to strengthen the U.S.-Philippine partnership.

“I think working with U.S. troops will make our alliance stronger and continue to increase our bonds for years to come,” said Apprentice Fireman Construction Electrician Joel Nioda from Zamboanga City.

“This will help unify and grow our bilateral relationship,” he added.

Since October 2016, the U.S. Navy Seabees construction projects for Philippine communities are valued at more than PHP100,000,000 ($1.9 Million).

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