End US-PH PACT for ‘right reason, not out of spite,’ Duterte told
Do it for the “right reasons, not out of spite,” opposition lawmakers on Friday told President Rodrigo Duterte, a day after the President threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States unless Washington restores the entry visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.
The VFA should not be used “as a bargaining chip for personal gain,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, who leads the six-member Makabayan bloc in the House.
Along with the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, the VFA should be scrapped as it is “onerous and violative of our national sovereignty … and not to avenge Bato,” Zarate said.
Dela Rosa, the former Philippine National Police chief who helped launch and enforce the President’s bloody war on drugs, on Wednesday disclosed that the US Embassy had canceled his 10-year, multiple-entry visa, which was supposed to expire in 2022.
The senator said there was no reason given for the cancellation, but that he was able to confirm it by writing the embassy in Manila after hearing about “rumors’’ on the matter last year.
As former PNP chief, Dela Rosa was widely vilified by human rights groups for being the architect of the drug war that had since killed thousands, allegedly through summary executions mostly targeting the poor.Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas described the President’s threat as a “childish bluff.”
“A senator’s pass to a US trip is certainly a cheap bargain for a treaty that justifies the free pass of American soldiers to launch war games here and commit grave sexual offenses,” Brosas said.
Mr. Duterte’s threat was an “insult to women and children victimized by the continued presence of US troops on our soil,” Brosas said, referring to the “numerous cases of rape, sexual abuse and even [the] murder of transwoman Jennifer Laude,” by a US Marine who was taking part in a joint US-Philippine military exercise.
While several senators agreed that President Duterte has the power to scrap the VFA, they expressed reservations about his stated reason for doing it.
Even Dela Rosa said he was “surprised” by Mr. Duterte’s action and maintained that he did not ask the President to defend him and pressure the United States to restore his visa.
“Maybe I was just the tipping point or the last straw before Mt. Digong erupted,” the senator said, using the President’s nickname.
Addressing the Chief Executive, Dela Rosa said: “I want to thank you, sir. I did not know you love me [so] much that you’re willing to give up the VFA for my visa. I did not know that I’m that important [to you].”
What VFA went through
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, whose visa was also voided by the United States in connection with a criminal case, said he did not see any reason why the President had to terminate the VFA over the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa.
“Where is the connection?” Lacson, chair of the Senate national defense and security committee, said in a text message to the Inquirer.
“The [VFA] between the Philippines and United States is a bilateral accord that went through some back-and-forth diplomatic discussions prior to ratification by the Senate, after some intense plenary deliberation,” Lacson said.
“On the other hand, the US visa is a conditional authorization unilaterally given to a visiting foreigner which may be granted, canceled or even denied outright, without need for explanation or justification,” he argued.
Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he was not surprised by the President’s move.
“It would be better for Malacañang to focus on the welfare and suffering of millions of our countrymen affected by the Taal Volcano eruption and the threat of a coronavirus outbreak than the cancellation of one US visa,” Pangilinan said.Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the chamber would “deal with [the issue] as a body.”
For US Senate to ‘rethink’
“The President is the architect of our foreign policy, but we in the Senate participate in treaty-making. I reserve my personal views in deference to my colleagues,” he said. “Perhaps this action can make the US Senate rethink [its] wrong perception about our justice system. [Mr. Duterte] is the President. The buck stops with him.”
The President does not need any reason to abrogate the military agreement, said Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee.
“That agreement should always be subject to review. The President may cancel it with or without reason.” —With a report from Melvin Gascon
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