Locsin: PH could lose up to ₱10 billion in aid if VFA ends

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 6) — The country stands to lose billions of pesos worth of United States assistance if it terminates the Visiting Forces Agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. said on Thursday.

During a Senate hearing on military agreements with the US, Locsin highlighted "direct benefits" from the VFA, including military assistance and financial grants.

Locsin said the US plans to spend more than $200 million, or around ₱10 billion, over the next two years to provide the Philippines with aircraft, training equipment and help in the construction of facilities.

"Without the VFA, the US departments of State and Defense will be hard put to get funds from the US Congress... for the defense assistance programs to the Philippines," he said.

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnein the country. Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

Duterte threatened to scrap the VFA in January in response to the US cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's visa. A Senate resolution has urged the President to reconsider the move to allow senators to assess the withdrawal from the treaty.

Locsin said the continuance of the agreement is "is deemed to be more beneficial," noting that abrogating it may also affect other important deals with the US, including the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

"There would essentially be no practical use for an EDCA in the absence of VFA which is the legal framework for the presence of US military personnel and military exercises and actual military responses under the MDT. Without them, the MDT is just a piece of paper," Locsin said.

The MDT states that each country would come to the defense of the other in case of an attack by a foreign country, while the EDCA – which Senate Minorirty Leader Franklin Drilon said was "merely an implementation of the VFA" – allows the US military to use and control five bases in the Philippines.

Locsin said the VFA also ensures the "operability" between Philippine and American forces in joint activities. Through the years, US forces have been "instrumental" in countering security threats, Locsin said, adding that they have also provided humanitarian assistance during disaster reponse.

He further warned that backing out of the VFA could put the Philippines in a bad light as it affects the country's "credibility to deliver mutual arrangements."

"While the VFA is a bilateral agreement, there may be repercussions in the way other SS allies or other US-friendly countries perceive and/or conduct their foreign relations with the Philippines," Locsin said.

The senior diplomat said there would be an impact on bilateral trade, investments and tourism considering that the US is the Philippines' biggest source of grants, third largest trading partner, and fifth source of investments.

Despite numerous advantages to keeping the VFA, Locsin said a "vigorous review" is called for after American senators "insulted" Philippine sovereignty in repeatedly calling for the release of Senator Leila de Lima – an opposition lawmaker detained on drug charges. However, he noted that preferring a review over termination is not the formal position of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is awaiting Duterte's green light before it sends the US a notice to terminate the VFA.

Under the two-decade military pact, the VFA can be terminated via a written notice from either of the countries. Expiration will come 180 days from the time either party notifies the other.