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Duterte orders assessment on VFA termination impact

Malacañang has ordered a review of the potential impact of terminating the 1991 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, an apparent backstep from President Duterte’s threat to end the military agreement ostensibly due to the canceled US visa of his former national police chief.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday received fresh orders to do an impact assessment, after complying with Malacañang’s order last Friday to lay down the legal procedures for ending the 20-year-old VFA.

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“We have just been instructed today to expand the scope of our study to include a preliminary impact assessment on the possible termination of the VFA,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters after submitting the DOJ’s memorandum to the President.

Guevarra did not give any reason for the impact review, deferring to Malacañang.

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“It is my understanding that the President has threatened, but has not given an order, to terminate the VFA. That’s why his office has requested us to study the potential impact of such termination,” he said.

Guevarra said he would ask Malacañang to convene the Cabinet cluster on justice and security and the VFA Commission to do an “in-depth and comprehensive impact assessment.”

The cluster includes the Department of National Defense, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and the Office of the Executive Secretary, he said.

Last Thursday, Mr. Duterte announced he will terminate the VFA unless the United States restored the visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who was the chief executor of the President’s war on drugs marked by extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses.

Ratified by the Senate on May 27, 1999, the VFA allowed the large-scale presence of American soldiers since the US military bases were closed down in 1991.

Critics decried that the agreement allowed the United States to retain jurisdiction over military personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines.

Calls for the VFA’s abolition intensified when two US soldiers were charged in court in 2006 and in 2014.

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US Marine Private First Class Scott Pemberton was found guilty of homicide for killing Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in a motel in Subic, Zambales, on Oct. 11, 2014.

The US Embassy arranged for him to serve his six to 10-year sentence in a facility within the military headquarters Camp Aguinaldo that is secured by American soldiers.

Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court in December 2006 of raping a Filipino woman.

He remained in the custody of the US Embassy until the Court of Appeals acquitted him on April 23, 2009.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo defended the President’s move to end the VFA with the United States, a longtime ally of the Philippines, saying it was not just a “decision on a whim,” but his “studied response” to intrusions and assaults on Philippine sovereignty. INQ

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TAGS: 1991 Visiting Forces Agreement, Malacañang, President Duterte
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