Senators say VFA termination makes MDT ‘useless’

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Two veteran lawmakers on Tuesday said the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will render “useless” the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the United States.

“Like it or not, bad or good, nothing much can be done now but do a 180-day countdown upon receipt of the notice by Washington. What is certain is that the 1951 PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty will now be reduced to a mere paper treaty as far as the US is concerned,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement after the Philippines formally notified the US that it is pulling out of the VFA.

The MDT guarantees that the Philippines and the US will support each other in the event of an “armed attack” on each country’s territory, armed forces, public vessels or aircraft.

On the other hand, the VFA governs the conduct of US troops while taking part in military exercises in the Philippines.

Ratified by the Senate in 1999, the VFA led to the establishment of annual bilateral military exercises between the Philippines and the US known as ”Balikatan,” as well as a variety of other cooperative measures.

Lacson also said with the abrogation of the military pact, the country now faces some security and economic risks.

“Having said that, there’s no more intelligence information sharing in our fight against domestic and foreign terrorist acts, no more US military aid and financing that accounts for a good 52 percent of what they extend to the whole Asia-Pacific region,” the former chief of the Philippine National Police said.

“That may not include other intangible economic benefits and security from external threats in the West Philippine Sea, as well as humanitarian aid in times of disasters, epidemics and other crises,” Lacson said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon agreed with Lacson, saying the MDT would be “inutile” without the VFA.

In an interview, Drilon explained that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) cannot stand alone without the VFA.

EDCA allows the US to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and allows the US to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, for both American and Philippine forces.

“The basis of the EDCA is the VFA, and if the VFA is terminated, the EDCA cannot be effective. If the VFA and EDCA are no longer effective, then the MDT would be inutile and would serve no purpose,” Drilon said.

The Senate Minority Leader added that with the recent development, there is now “no sense” in continuing the Senate’s review of the VFA.

Drilon and Lacson, along with Senate President Vicente Sotto III, had earlier filed a resolution asking President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider outright abrogation of the VFA, and instead, pursue its comprehensive review.

Despite the resolution, which the Senate passed Monday, Drilon acceded that insofar as the VFA is concerned, the President has sole prerogative being the “principal actor” in foreign relations.

For his part, Sotto said the resolution they passed only expressed the “sense of the Senate,” and nothing more.

“The sense of the Senate is for the President to reconsider because we want to review the VFA. Well, it appears that the President does not want to review the VFA and that he does not want to consider. It’s as simple as that,” he said in a separate interview.

“The chief architect of the foreign policies is the President, the buck stops with him, so be it,” Sotto said. PNA.GOV.PH