MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippine government started Friday the process of terminating its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States upon the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte, who wanted to end the military deal after Washington canceled the visa of his former police chief, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.
Manila will no longer wait for Washington’s response on President Duterte’s warning giving the US a month to reverse the visa cancellation of Dela Rosa, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
“The process for terminating the same has started,” Panelo told reporters in Malacañang.
“The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly,” he added.
Dela Rosa, who spearheaded Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs, earlier said his visa cancellation might be linked to his supposed involvement in extrajudicial killings under the campaign. The US Embassy in Manila, however, did not provide a specific reason for the cancellation of the lawmaker’s travel document.
Panelo said US Ambassador Sung Kim sought a meeting with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea either on Friday or Saturday to discuss the development.
Following Duterte’s orders, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he asked Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to “start the process of terminating” the VFA and to inform the Philippine Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Locsin is the chair of the VFA commission while Lorenzana serves as vice chair.
The Philippines’ top diplomat said the President can withdraw from the VFA without Senate approval, just like how he unilaterally withdrew the country from the International Criminal Court after it launched a preliminary examination into his controversial drug war.
"There is a view which I think I shared once—on pulling out of ICC as I did as UN ambassador—that while Senate concurrence is required to make a treaty; none is required to terminate it which is an entirely personal Presidential power. But that's just a view," he said.
Panelo, also Duterte’s chief legal counsel, shared the same view.
The VFA came into force in 1999 and covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines.
It is among military agreements between the Philippines and the US, which also include the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country; and the Mutual Defense Treaty which requires one to defend the other in case of an attack on its territory.
Under the VFA, the accord will only be deemed terminated 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party a notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.
In 2016, the President also threatened to repeal the VFA, declaring "bye-bye America," and we don't need your money.
Ties between Manila and Washington are currently “lukewarm” because the US is “intruding into our domestic affairs,” Panelo said.
“We can say it’s not as warm as before. It’s lukewarm,” he added.
Among the factors that Panelo cited are the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, and the inclusion of an entry ban against Philippine top officials supposedly behind drug charges that led to the detention of Duterte’s critic Sen. Leila de Lima.
The cancellation of Dela Rosa’s US visa is also a factor for President Duterte’s rejection of Washington’s invitation for a leaders’ summit in Las Vegas on March 4, Panelo said.
“He said he’s not going for many reasons which I already stated earlier and the other reason was the cancellation of Sen. Bato’s visa. That added to the other factors,” he said.
Duterte, who has sought to distance the Philippines from the US, has several times said he would never set foot on American soil.