Lacson hits move to scrap VFA that exposes PH to security threats

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday expressed his belief that the Philippines is now exposed naked to threats after being stripped of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In a statement, Lacson said the country will no doubt survive without the military pact given the resilience of the Filipino people and its soldiers.

“We know how to improvise and we can adapt to crises the way we did many times before,” he said.

However, he pointed out that without the US assistance from now on, the Philippines will continue to be exposed to terrorists and other threats to national security.

“[I]n the meantime, we remain exposed to terrorist threats, both domestic and foreign, not to mention the continuing security threat in the West Philippine Sea posed by China, and even the need for timely humanitarian response and assistance that the US is capable of deploying during disasters, natural or man-made,” he said.

He also said that the abrogation of the country’s military pact also affects the maintenance and repairs of military hardware, mostly air assets provided by the US under the AFP modernization program.

The VFA between Washington and Manila came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification.

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off the Philippines’ scrapping of the VFA, saying it would “save a lot of money.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier said it is now eyeing to sign similar defense treaties and increase engagement for joint exercises with other countries as a replacement for the terminated agreement with the US.

But Lacson pointed out that establishing a similar military pact would take a long time.

“Exploring other options like inking similar defense treaties with other nations as posited by the AFP Chief of Staff is fine but the reality is, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

“It will take a series of back-and-forth negotiations in pursuit of the concerned parties’ self and national interests before going through lengthy deliberations for ratification by the Senate,” he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

“While admittedly, the VFA is not perfect for the Philippines as far as equitability is concerned, the timing and reasons for its abrogation are way off the mark,” Lacson said.

“The thing is, it is not the smartest move of the President to expose ourselves naked first before looking for other options for cover,” he added.

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