Duterte’s decision to scrap VFA remains ‘unchanged’

President Rodrigo Duterte is still firm in his decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, Malacañang said on Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo reiterated that Duterte’s decision to scrap the VFA was in retaliation for US senators’ interference in the case of Senator Leila de Lima who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City due to her involvement in illegal drugs.

Panelo emphasized that Duterte felt that the actions made by US lawmakers were as good as “assaulting” the country’s sovereignty.

“I asked him, ‘Is your position unchanged?’ ‘Yes.’ I think mas importante iyon, iyong position niya (I think his position is more important),” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

Panelo, however, said he could not tell what it would take for the President to change his mind.

“That will depend on the President’s thinking on the matter. I cannot read his mind at this time. Depende sa kaniya (It will depend on him),” Panelo said.

He said Duterte’s position may change “if circumstances changed”.

Earlier, Panelo bared that a phone conversation between Duterte and US President Donald Trump may “soon” take place amid the abrogation of the VFA.

Asked if Trump could push Duterte into changing his position, Panelo said it was Duterte’s call.

An amendment to the US 2020 budget gives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the jurisdiction to bar Philippine government officials involved in de Lima’s “wrongful detention” from entering the US.

The US Senate has also passed Senate Resolution 142, asking Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials allegedly behind de Lima’s detention.

Cabinet’s support

Despite Duterte’s decision to scrap the VFA without consulting his Cabinet, Panelo said all its members have expressed support the Chief Executive’s position.

“Sinabi nila review, pero sinabi niya rin nila na (They said they will review but they also said) we are, we will fully support the President,” Panelo said.

Panelo also stressed anew that Duterte is the “chief architect” of foreign policy and did not need any consultation from Cabinet.

“The President is the chief architect, hindi siya kailangan mag-consult. Magaling na Presidente, abogado pa. Kung mayroon siyang doubts on certain area, siguro (he doesn’t need to consult. A good president and a lawyer. If he has doubts on a certain area, perhaps) that’s the time he consults,” he added.

Inked by the Philippines and the US on Feb. 10, 1998, the VFA allows US troops to visit the Philippines without passport and visa restrictions and gives them the privilege to use their permits and licenses in the host country.

The agreement also grants the US jurisdiction over its military personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines unless their lawless acts can be punished in Manila.

The deal can be revoked by the Philippines by sending a formal notification to the US. PNA.GOV.PH