Duterte walks back threat to end U.S. military pact, orders review of impact

Photo: Froilan Gallardo/ABS-CBN News
Photo: Froilan Gallardo/ABS-CBN News

Is President Rodrigo Duterte having second thoughts on his latest threat?

Less than a week after he threatened to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement, or VFA, in retaliation to apparent U.S. sanctions, Duterte has ordered a review of its potential impact, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced yesterday.

“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,” Guevarra told The Philippine Daily Inquirer. He gave no explanation as to why the president asked for the review.

Guevarra told ABS-CBN News that they would study the effect of canceling the 20-year-old agreement on other Philippine commitments with the United States, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, which assures both countries will defend each other in case of attack; and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the U.S. to build facilities in areas owned by the Philippine military.

Many were flabbergasted when Duterte declared last week he would unilaterally cancel the agreement if Washington does not return Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s American visa. The VFA, which controversially gives the U.S. jurisdiction over crimes committed by American military personnel in the Philippines, was to be canceled in one month if the president didn’t get his way.

At issue is a recent U.S. travel ban imposed on Philippine officials implicated in the ongoing detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, which began when dela Rosa was chief of the national police force. A separate U.S. Senate resolution has called on the executive branch to impose sanctions on Filipino officials involved in human rights violations under the Global Magnitsky Act.

Though that likely explains why dela Rosa’s visa was canceled, the American embassy in Manila has reportedly refused to explain why it was voided.

Following Duterte’s threat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin began the process of terminating the VFA, but it now appears the president’s threat is just that – a threat. 

Let’s hear it straight from Guevarra: 

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

Leftist groups have long called for the cancelation of the VFA, saying that granting the U.S. jurisdiction over criminal cases involving American servicemen has led to evading justice. When several American soldiers were accused of rape in 2006 in Olongapo, for instance, the U.S. kept them in its custody instead of turning them over to Filipino officials. The VFA was again invoked when the U.S. refused to remand custody of former Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, who killed transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude, to the New Bilibid Prison after he was convicted.

Do you think the VFA will be terminated? Tell us by leaving a comment below or tweeting @CoconutsManila.

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