By Macon Araneta

Despite Malacañang’s announcement that President Duterte has already ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs(DFA) to send a formal notice to the United States government for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao said there is still time for the President to have a change of heart.

According to Pacquiao, the President must weigh the cost and benefits of the VFA before making any decision to rescind a treaty which can have an irreversible implication on the country’s security. 

“Obviously, there are certain US senators who are seeking attention because of the upcoming US elections this year. We should not allow the VFA and our relations with the US become collateral damage in the upcoming US elections,” Pacquaio noted

Pacquiao said that he truly admires Duterte’s hardline position in rebuking what he perceives as America’s meddling in the country’s affairs but this is not sufficient ground to turn back on a very important international security pact.

Pacquiao said that the VFA, which allows the presence of American troops and equipment in the country, lays the legal framework for all other mutual defense cooperation agreements between the Philippines and the US.

“If we are not happy with the VFA, we should at least try to bring the US to the table and find a solution to our concerns instead of just throwing it out the window. Mas maigi sigurong pag-isipan muna natin itong mabuti,” Pacquaio said. 

Aside from building several highways especially in General Santos City, it was also the US, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), that built the General Santos International Airport which is considered Mindanao’s biggest airport.

And while he agrees with the observation that some actions made by the US government may have caused discomfort on the present state of the country’s bilateral ties, Pacquiao said there are more good reasons for the Philippines to maintain its friendship with the US.  

Apart from defense and security cooperation, the US has been a valuable trade partner. Goods and services traded by the US with the Philippines totaled an estimated $29.6 billion in 2017. Total exports were $11.5 billion and imports were $18.1 billion. 

He said American exports of Goods and Services to the Philippines supported an estimated 58 thousand jobs in 2015.

The US, the Senator said, has also been at the forefront in assisting the Philippines in a series of natural and man-made calamities. It has provided over $143 million in assistance in relief and recovery efforts after Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda devastated the country in 2013 

The Senate on Monday night adopted a resolution urging the President to reconsider his plan to terminate the VFA.

Senate Resolution No. 312, introduced by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, was adopted with one abstention by Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa

Duterte reiterated his call for the termination of the VFA after the United States decided to cancel the visa of dela Rosa last January 24.

But the senators asserted that the decision to terminate the agreement must be reviewed seriously such that it will not affect the security and economy of the Philippines and its neighbors in the Asia Pacific region.

They urged the President to reconsider his plan to terminate the VFA while the Senate is conducting a thorough review of the agreement.

“Fully recognizing the authority of the Chief Executive and without intending to disrespect a co-equal body, prior to unilaterally terminating the VFA, the Senate should be given the opportunity to conduct a review and assessment of the impact of the withdrawal on the country’s security and economy, specifically with regard to intelligence information sharing, military aid and financing and technical assistance extended by the US relative to the continuing threats posed by domestic and foreign terrorist groups, and ultimately to the stability and security in the Asia Pacific region,” the resolution said.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, sponsor of Senate Resolution No. 312, quoted Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. who said during a public hearing conducted on the Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty last February 6 that “the termination of the VFA must be weighed in terms of the overall interest of the country.”

According to Pimentel, Locsin listed four areas where direct benefits are derived from the VFA, mostly in the Philippine defense, military and security arrangements.

In the same hearing, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana told senators that the US donated $1.3 billion to the Philippine’s defense since 1998. The biggest donation, he said was in 2017 when the US gave the Philippines $217 million.

For his part, Sotto pointed out that international relations are essential for the cooperation between nations, promotion of successful trade policies, advancement of human culture as well as the maintenance of the peace and order for the country’s stability.

“In a developing country like ours, it is more beneficial and prudent to maintain if not gain allies than to challenge our status quo. Our country is currently benefitting from our partner states which include the United States of America,” Sotto said.

“It is my view that the better way to go is to review the agreement and ask the executive department to reconsider its intent of abrogation while the Senate, who is a partner in this agreement, is reviewing it,” Sotto added.

Drilon moved to include Senate Resolution No. 305 expressing the sense of the Senate that termination or withdrawal from treaties and international agreements concurred in by the Senate shall be valid and effective only upon concurrence by the Senate.

The VFA between the Philippines and the United States was entered into and came into force upon the ratification of the Senate on May 27, 1999. Its primary goal is to facilitate the promotion of optimal cooperation between American and Philippine military forces in the event of an attack by a common foe.

The VFA provides the “regulatory mechanism” by which United States military and civilian personnel may visit temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.

Another agreement was entered into between the two countries in the form of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) on April 28, 2014 with the goal of supplementing the existing VFA through mutual cooperation in developing their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attacks.