The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will send a message to China that it is free to build air and naval bases on the Scarborough Shoal, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Tuesday.
Carpio said the VFA, which gave legal basis for the presence of US forces participating in military exercises in the country, allowed Americans to mark a red line on Scarborough as a warning that China could not build on the shoal.
“When they hold exercises here in Luzon, they would fire their HIMARS missile to show to the Chinese that from Luzon, ‘We can destroy whatever you build on Scarborough shoal’ and… it was a strong message to China,” Carpio told GMA News' JP Soriano.
Carpio warned that China may proceed to build military bases in the shoal, which is only 124 nautical miles away from Luzon.
“When we told the Americans that we don’t need the VFA, then how can we tell them help us in Scarborough shoal when precisely it was the VFA that allowed them to send that signal to China?” Carpio said.
In response to arguments that China still built assets on the islands despite the VFA, Carpio said the Spratlys Islands were not covered by the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the US.
The retired justice said the Spratlys Islands were not incorporated into Philippine territory until the 1970s, while the treaty was signed in 1951.
The VFA, meanwhile, took effect in 1999.
“As far as the Spratlys are concerned, that’s not covered by the MDT. That’s very clear. But the Scarborough is covered, that’s why the US has an obligation to help us in Scarborough shoal,” Carpio said.
On February 11, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced that he had sent the notice of termination of the VFA to the US government.
"The Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement," he tweeted.
President Rodrigo Duterte sought the abrogation of the VFA following the US government’s cancellation of the visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, a staunch administration ally, reportedly over his involvement in the war on drugs.
The VFA will be terminated 180 days after the notice was sent.
Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier warned that the MDT will be rendered useless. —Julia Mari Ornedo/NB, GMA News