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Duterte to study Senate recommendation on scrapping of VFA

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By Genalyn Kabiling and Hannah Torregoza 

President Duterte will study any recommendation from the Senate review of the country’s visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the United States despite government moves to scrap the deal, Malacañang said Sunday.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers a speech during the celebration of the 120-year presence of the Baptist Churches in the Philippines at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City on January 16, 2020. (TOTO LOZANO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO/ MANILA BULLETIN)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (TOTO LOZANO / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Even as the President is expected to make a written directive on the termination of the VFA on Monday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said they respect the Senate’s prerogative to conduct the review and will look into the results of its inquiry.

“They are not prohibited from reviewing any treaty or executive agreement para makapagbigay sila ng recommendation as a body (so they can give a recommendation as a body),” Panelo said in a radio interview Sunday.

“They will recommend to the President. The President will also study kung tama yung kanilang punto de vista (if their point of view is correct),” he said, when asked if the senators recommends upholding the VFA after their review.

According to Panelo, the Senate review on the VFA, which governs the conduct of visiting US troops in the country, won’t be a waste of time.

“Kung na-abrogate mo, tapos nung na-review nila, meron sila mga recommendation na halimbawa sabihin nila, ‘O tama ‘yun kasi ganito ang gawin natin. Ito dapat ang mga terms. eh di nakatulong sila (If you abrogate it, and after their review, their recommendation is ‘That’s right because we should have done this . These should be terms.’ So they will actually help,” he said.

READ MORE: DFA notice on VFA abrogation now ready – Locsin

The Senate foreign relations committee reportedly plans to conduct a review of the two-decade-old VFA this week despite the President’s move to terminate the deal.

The agreement, signed in 1998, contains guidelines governing the entry and departure of US troops in the country, including exempting them from passport and visa regulations. They can also use their US driving permits and licenses when in the country.

The deal also allows the US to keep jurisdiction over personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines unless offenses are punishable in the host country.

READ MORE: Duterte orders termination of VFA

Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said the government should brace for the consequences of terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States once it is in effect.

Pimentel made the call a day after President Duterte reportedly ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to finally send to the US a formal notice that he is terminating the two countries’ military treaty.

“Let’s be ready as a sovereign nation. Since we are asserting our authority as a sovereign nation, then we have to bear it.. we have to bear the consequences,” Pimentel said in an interview over GMANewsTv.

Pimentel noted that there was still 180 days or six months before the termination takes effect. With this, he said, he hopes that US authorities would just focus on the VFA issue when they consider the government’s notice of termination.

“Let us hope that the other party, contracting party, would just also focus on the VFA. We cannot control how they will act, and it will have an effect on us. But then we should be ready to bear it like a sovereign nation,” he said.

Sen. Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos, on the other hand, reiterated the need for the President to seriously weigh the negative impact of the abrogating the treaty.

Marcos, who earlier voiced her preference for a thorough review of the VFA, expressed belief that government troops still get a fair share of the benefits under the treaty.

“That’s why when we say we annul the VFA, American soldiers may be more than happy to do it because in the past when we have no military treaty with the Americans, those US soldiers who were convicted of rape or murder can just go back home to the US,” Marcos pointed out in a separate interview with GMANewsTv.

“So that’s why I am still all for a review, and we have a committee to do that and it should be done yearly,” she added.

Marcos also highlighted the US military’s role in the fight against extremists and terrorists groups in the country, like the Abu Sayyaff Group (ASG).

“The American soldiers really have an impressive and sophisticated technology and that can help us,” she noted.

READ MORE: Senators hold executive session on VFA termination impact

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