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Full breakup with US difficult, maybe even unconstitutional, say experts

It will take much more than President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration to make the Philippines' breakup with the United States happen.

In separate interviews, analysts from the University of the Philippines said cutting ties entails severing agreements on the military front and on the business side.

UP College of Law professor Jay Batongbacal said it was difficult to read Duterte's pronouncement, made before Chinese businessmen during a state visit in Beijing on Thursday.

"If you take it at face value, that means, of course, abrogating the military ties, especially the agreements like the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement), the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement). Kung economic, that means cutting off from overseas development assistance, USAID projects, and other activities, trainings, gano'n," he told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

He noted that initiating the Philippines' exit from the said military agreements "could take at least a year."

Batongbacal underscored that an economic split from the US "is even more problematic, and near impossible."

He said Duterte's declaration, if taken seriously, "implies that the government should therefore step in and cut off business ties between the Philippine businesses and American businesses."

Such a move might even go against the Constitution, he added.

"You cannot just cut off business relationships. It might even be unconstitutional. It's not that easy to do. And for practical purposes it's almost impossible," he said.

"Kaya nga it's hard to understand this statement, to actually give it meaning. If the government now says don't take this to mean anything, don't interpret it in any way, as policy, then it simply means it's just posturing, it's just for show," he added.

"But presidents are not expected to make meaningless statements that will ultimately backfire on his credibility, on his leadership," he went on.

'Wait for clarification'

For his part, Professor Ranjit Singh Rye of the UP Department of Political Science said Duterte's statement calls for clarification.

"Unang-una, kailangan muna nating klaruhin kung ano ang ibig niyang sabihin. Let's wait for him to clarify that even further, although to some people it seems loud and clear," he told radio dzBB.

Rye said the Philippines has a long-standing, "very complex" relationship with the US, and noted that the legislative branch will also have to step in assuming the President intends to pursue "a recalibration" of the said relations.

"Ang daming kailangang hakbang at maraming aspeto 'yung relasyon na napakatagal na at 'di kaagad mabubuwag 'yan, magigiba 'yan sa isang statement lang alone," he said.

He added: "Pero assuming ito 'yung gusto niya, to rethink or revisit our security relationship, marami pang pagdadaanan 'yan, hindi lang sa executive department. Lalo na sa Senado, in particular, sa Mutual Defense Treaty natin, sa EDCA."

Rye also said it's possible that Duterte's statement may be a call for the US to give more weight to its relations with the Philippines.

"Iklaro muna ang lahat bago tayo mag-panic. Mukha namang our President means well," he said. "That might be also because he wants a broader and deeper relationship with the US, more than what we've had in the past decade."

He added that "reimagining" the US-Philippine relations may be pursued given the upcoming change of American leadership.

"The next president of the United States will come in November. We'll have a significant opportunity to restate, reimagine, recalibrate the relationship. I think the President is also waiting for that opportunity," Rye said.

Duterte vs. US

The US is the Philippines' third largest trading partner, next to Japan and China, with $16.491 billion total trade in 2015.

Duterte has been publicly critical of the US, scoring on several occasions President Barack Obama and even now-outgoing Ambassador Philip Goldberg, after American officials expressed concern over the spate of drug-related deaths since he started his term.

After Thursday's remarks, Cabinet officials have said Duterte did not intend to cut ties with the US, but he was only reiterating his plan to chart an independent foreign policy and to open the market to more foreign investors. 

US officials, meanwhile, have sought clarification about the President's statement. —JST, GMA News