Philippine, US troop drills to proceed before VFA ends: defense chief

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2020 11:09 AM

US Marines arrive in an amphibious assault vehicle during the amphibious landing exercises of the US-Philippines war games promoting bilateral ties at a military camp in Zambales province, April 11, 2019. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA - Military exercises between Philippine and US troops will proceed while the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) "remains in force" during a 6-month countdown after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered it scrapped, Manila's defense chief said Thursday.

Duterte, through his cabinet officials, notified the US on Tuesday that Philippines was terminating the VFA, following the visa cancellation of his ally and drug war soldier, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.

Manila and Washington's Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) war games in May falls within the 180-day notification period to abrogate the VFA, the Armed Forces of the Philippines earlier said.

"With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

"Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them," he said in a statement.

However, the US "may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises" before the notification period is up, Lorenzana noted.

The 22-year-old VFA governs war games between Filipino and American troops in the Philippines. It also includes mechanisms to hold US troops accountable in case they violated Philippine laws.

Two US servicemen were convicted of rape and homicide in separate cases while the VFA was in effect.

US President Donald Trump said Thursday he was "fine" with the pact's termination and that it would "save a lot of money."

The AFP will "increase" military engagements with other allies including Japan and Australia to make up for the loss of the VFA, said the new Chief of Staff, Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said his chamber might ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the administration's move to scrap the VFA without seeking lawmakers' approval.

Some lawmakers are concerned that without the VFA, 2 other pacts would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

The MDT requires one party to defend the other in case of external aggression, while the 2014 EDCA, an executive agreement, allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country. With reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse