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EDCA 'useless,' MDT 'hollow' without VFA —Guevarra

Ending the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will render other Philippines-United States security pacts "practically useless," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said even as he expressed confidence the country will "survive" a potential VFA termination.

Manila has sent to the US a notice of termination of the 1999 VFA, following a threat by President Rodrigo Duterte to end the agreement after the US cancelled Senator Ronaldo "Bato" dela Rosa's US visa. The US defense chief said a termination is a "move in the wrong direction."

The VFA expires 180 days after one party notifies the other of an intention to terminate.

"The termination of the VFA will make the EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) practically useless and the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) a hollow agreement," Guevarra told reporters Wednesday.

"But again note this: we survived the historic termination of the RP-US military bases agreement; there's no reason why we shall not survive the termination of a mere Visiting Forces Agreement."

The Justice chief was referring to the Senate's rejection in 1991 of a proposed treaty that would have extended an agreement on the presence of American military bases in the Philippines.

This pact was the Philippines-US military bases agreement, entered into in 1947. In 1951, the two countries agreed to respond to external attacks on their territory under the MDT.

Though the 1991 Senate vote meant an end to longtime American military presence in the country, the Philippines and the US' defense and security relationship continued under the MDT, according to a Supreme Court (SC) ruling.

But in 1999, after a period of negotiations, the allies entered into the VFA, which governs the conditions under which American soldiers may be present in the Philippines.

The SC dismissed petitions against the VFA in 2000.

The EDCA, which provided for increased rotational presence of US troops in the country, was signed in 2014. The SC affirmed its constitutionality in 2016.

These are the agreements that Guevarra said would be affected by a termination of the VFA.

But he said the MDT, being the umbrella agreement, "need not be scrapped."

"Maybe in the future new arrangements may be entered into that will give teeth and muscle to this treaty, or it may be scrapped altogether. Foreign policy is dynamic; it evolves with the times," he said in a message to reporters.

'Water under the bridge'

Guevarra was among the authorities Malacañang ordered to study the impact of a potential VFA termination, but he has not disclosed his recommendation to the president, calling it "water under the bridge."

"But one thing is clear; the president had everything he needed to know before he made up his mind to terminate the VFA," he said.

An issue is whether or not Senate concurrence is needed for a treaty to be terminated.

Senator Franklin Drilon of the opposition has filed a resolution asserting that any termination or withdrawal of treaty and international agreement is valid only when approved by the Senate.

According to Article VII, Section 21 of the Constitution,“no treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”

But Guevarra said there is "nothing" in the Constitution requiring Senate concurrence when it comes to termination of treaties.

This is also an issue in the Philippines' withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose prosecutor is examining allegations of extrajudicial killings in the country in relation to Duterte's war on drugs.

In a still-pending SC case, the petitioners argued that Duterte needed the concurrence of the Senate before he withdrew from the ICC's establishing treaty.

Government lawyers, on the other hand, contended there is no constitutional requirement for a Senate nod on withdrawals from treaties.

The ICC withdrawal took effect in 2019. —KBK, GMA News