Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Thursday said terminating the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States at this time would most likely have negative effects on the country.
“While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits where it to be terminated,” Locsin said during the hearing by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Terminating the VFA will negatively impact the Philippines’ defense and security arrangements as well as the overall bilateral relations of the Philippines with the US, and perhaps even on the sub-regional and multilateral levels,” he said.
Locsin said ending the 21-year-old pact may not only compromise existing PH-US goodwill and friendly relations but might as well affect the robust economic relations between the two countries.
“The US is the country’s third-largest trading partner at USD18.17 billion registered in 2018, our largest export market and our fourth-largest import source. The Philippines also enjoys preferential treatment on its exports to the US as a beneficiary of the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP),” he noted.
“GSP exports account for 16 percent of total exports to the US valued at USD1.7 billion in 2018. It may be noted also that the Philippines currently enjoys a trade surplus with the US with our exports outpacing imports by as much as USD371.98 million as of June 2019,” Locsin said.
The US is also the Philippines’ 5th largest source of investments, accounting for some USD12.9 billion in 2018, he said.
“US assistance facilitated by VFA may dry up,” Locsin said.
In terms of official development assistance (ODA), Locsin said the US is the country’s largest source of grants, accounting for 36.89 shares of total grants in 2018 amounting to USD886.47 million.
From 2016-2019, the US provided substantial development assistance in the amount of USD336.306 million (PHP16.8 billion), which funded programs for scholarships and seminars and projects of education, health, environment, agriculture, fisheries, trade, labor, and governance.
“This brings total US assistance to the Philippines for the same period to USD904.93 million,” Locsin said.
On the other hand, Locsin admitted that there are “irritants” in the agreement that need to be addressed.
He assured lawmakers that the DFA has already taken steps to clarify with the US certain items pertaining to the VFA to avoid any issues in the implementation of the agreement.
Locsin also took a swipe at US Senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin for “insulting the basic aspect” of the country’s sovereignty, in connection with the US lawmakers’ plea for the Philippine government to release Senator Leila de Lima.
De Lima has been in jail since February 2017 on charges that she benefitted from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was still the justice secretary under the Aquino administration.
Locsin said the VFA is the “logical target” when the country’s sovereign justice system was disrespected by the US lawmakers.
“When US senators demean the Philippine justice system, which is the mirror image of the US, by demanding the release of an accused, properly charged by two rulings of our Supreme Court, it insulted the most basic aspect of sovereignty — the monopoly on justice within its territory,” he said.
“Therefore, there is value in revisiting the VFA to address issues of sovereignty, such as jurisdiction and custody. And the early resumption of bilateral clarificatory talks should serve as a basis as well as a jump-off point for a review of the VFA,” Locsin said. (PNA)