Terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States will render the Philippines’ other military pacts with Washington useless and would invite further Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.
Speaking at a forum on the VGA, Carpio said President Rodrigo Duterte’s next move might be to rescind the Mutual Defense Treaty and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Carpio said the presence of US soldiers and military equipment in the country acts as a deterrent to armed aggression from China.
“Without such capability, we would practically be inviting the enemy to seize whatever Philippine islands, rocks, reefs, it desires to seize in the West Philippine Sea,” Carpio said.
The 1951 MDT commits the Philippines and the United States to come to each other’s aid if either comes under attack.
EDCA, signed in 2014, allows the prepositioning of US defense equipment and materials in strategic locations in the Philippines.
Carpio said he believed the President needed Senate approval to abrogate the VFA, but said if the Supreme Court upholds President Duterte’s authority to unilaterally terminate the agreement, the MDT and EDCA would be next to go.
He also questioned Duterte’s claim of wanting an independent foreign policy.
“What is the motive of the President in terminating the VFA? He said he wants to make an independent foreign policy, at least independent from the US but dependent on China for all time and be a protectorate of Russia,” he said.
Duterte ordered the termination of VFA following the cancellation of the visa of his ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa over his alleged involvement in the extrajudicial killings during his stint as Philippine National Police chief.
Carpio added that Duterte’s Oct. 16 pronouncement in Beijing was tantamout to pledging allegiance to China.
“I’ve realigned myself in your [China] ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” Duterte had said.
“America has lost now,” the President continued. “With that, in this venue, your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time. But do not worry. We will also help as you help us.”
Carpio said the statement was telling.
“We thought it was just nothing. But he is actually doing it now,” Carpio said. “We should have taken it from there. When he told the Chinese host ‘I shall be dependent on you for all time,’ he was pledging allegiance to the Chinese.”
On Thursday, Carpio told students at the Ateneo de Manila University that without allies, China would seize areas of the South China Sea that the Philippines claims.
“Without allies, we will lose the West Philippine Sea. That’s for sure,” Carpio said.
He said he believed China would occupy and reclaim Scarborough Shoal once the US forces leave with the termination of the VFA.
He said that three years after the US bases in the Philippines were closed in 1992, China seized Mischief Reef.
He said China backed down from reclaiming Scarborough Shoal in March 2016, after then US President Barack Obama warned Chinese President Xi Jinping of “serious consequences” if China moved on Scarborough.
“When President Duterte abrogated the Visiting Forces Agreement, he was sending a message to China, ‘there is no more red line.’ Because the Americans are no longer here to enforce the red line,” Carip said.
On Wednesday, Duterte said that if the Philippines cannot learn to defend itself, the country should just choose between being a US territory or a province of China.
While the military leadership toned down the impact of the termination of the VFA, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. have said that the Philippines stands to lose millions of pesos worth of military training, aid, and technical support.
At the same forum on Friday, the Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said there were ongoing talks between him and US Ambassador Sung Kim for a new agreement to replace the terminated VFA.
“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come out with something similar perhaps again… still following the President’s thinking about the sovereignty issue,” Romualdez said.
He said they are considering a new agreement based on Japan and Australia’s visiting forces agreement.
“The Japan SOFA [status of forces agreement] is one of those recommended for study and also I think we have SOVFA (status of visiting forces agreement) with Australia. These are the two existing agreements with other countries,” he said.
“At the moment, I’m not at liberty to say what or where we are. But this is still being studied and a recommendation will be made to the President,” Romualdez added
He said the termination of the VFA would not mean the end of the relationship between the Philippines and the United States.
The Palace on Friday said members of the President’s Cabinet were all on board with his decision to terminate the VFA.
The statement came after Senator Panfilo Lacson had claimed that some Cabinet members expressed apprehension over the commander-in-chief’s decision to scrap the two-decade-old VFA.
On Feb. 11, the Philippines sent Washington a notice to terminate the VFA after the US had canceled the visa of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Duterte’s former drug war chief, and after some American senators called for the release of Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained over drug charges.
READ: Ex-UN envoy backs termination of VFAREAD: VFA sparks confusion at PalaceREAD: DOJ-led unit to assess VFA termination
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