#PINGterview: Possible National Security Implications of Scrapping VFA | Jan. 27, 2020

In an interview with Senate media, Sen. Lacson answered questions on the possible implications on national security of scrapping the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

QUOTES and NOTES:

On possible implications of PH unilaterally abrogating the VFA:

“(May mawawala sa atin kung nag-abrogate tayo). Kasi ang visiting forces, may mga joint exercises na kasama riyan. Pagkaalam ko, after every joint exercises, iniiwanan nila ang equipment. This much I heard from defense officials themselves, ang AFP officers natin. And kasama sa mutual defense ito, pag may exchange of information, especially intelligence information. If you can recall, si Marwan was pinpointed accurately with the use of technical intelligence extended by the Americans. Hiwalay na muna natin ang naging fate ng 44 fallen SAF troopers. Ang issue rito, papaano napadali ang pag-locate kay Marwan. And there were also different instances in the past lalo sa Abu Sayyaf, lalo laban natin sa terrorism, na nakakatulong talaga ang exchange of information. Ang worrisome lang dito, kung mawala rin ang benefits na nakukuha ng PH, meron tayong loss.”

“Kailangan natin basahin ang nilalalaman ng VFA. Sa VFA hindi siguro masyado ganoon kalaki at mahirap i-quantify, di pa natin alam ano pwede mangyari in case ma-abrogate ang treaty. Or ano magiging effect nito sa other treaties related sa VFA. Maraming unknown factors dito so hindi natin pwede agad i-quantify ano mawawala sa atin, ano mga benefits na nade-derive natin na mawawala.”

Possible effect on other PH treaties with US:

“Pwede pa rin ang pag-exchange ng intelligence information (under the Mutual Defense Treaty). Ang worrisome dito, what if the other party, in this case the US, decides to abrogate all treaties related to VFA altogether? Lahat.

“In terms of security, beneficial sa atin, pati sa ASEAN neighbors (ang) nakapaloob pa naman sa Mutual Defense Treaty yan. But what if dahil sa move natin, if at all mag-push through, gumanti ang kabilang party, sabihin nila altogether scrap na rin natin? Of course tama na unilaterally the executive may abrogate or break the treaty or any bilateral agreement. Ang alam ko hindi ko nabasa ang petition na filed nina Sen Drilon, kung nagde-deal lang yan sa ICC withdrawal or kung mag-decide ang SC at ma-encompass pati ang mga prospective na treaties kung masasakop yan.”

“Yan ang sinasabi ko kung sakaling madamay yan. This is one of at least 3 treaties na bordering on security arrangements.”

“Sa Marawi ganoon din malaki rin naitulong. Maraming mga dapat mapakinabangan tayo na dapat kung talagang sagad na hindi sa reason ng visa ng isang tao, no matter how important that person is to the President. Sa akin, it doesnโ€™t count. When we talk of national security and the national integrity of the country, dapat wala lahat yan. Dapat ang tinitingnan natin ang national interest.”

Possible impact on national security if VFA is scrapped:

“Malaki ang impact sa national security natin especially sa laban natin against terrorism. We can rely on other countries like Australia, meron tayong similar treaty with Australia, meron tayong ibang treaties with other countries. Pero long-standing ang agreement natin with US. MDT dates back as 1951. Kung pati yan ma-abrogate on account of unilateral abrogation natin ng VFA, baka madamay.”

On reasons cited by Malacaรฑang for abrogating VFA:

I will be very blunt. Itโ€™s for the wrong reason, and of course they are trying to rectify that by saying yan lang ang parang finally nag-break ng camelโ€™s back, so to speak. Pero kung yan lang talaga ang reason, I donโ€™t see the proportionateness. Kasi initially that was the only reason advanced by the President, kung hindi i-correct, he threatened to abrogate.”

On US government’s ‘silence’ on the issue:

“I think they are still processing kung ano ang implications. And itโ€™s not as if, it is a no-brainer they are already studying their options kung ano magiging next move nila. But I think there are quiet attempts maski papaano, ma-obviate ang situation.”

Implications of abrogating VFA on territorial row with China:

“Sama-sama nga yan. Kaya weโ€™re talking of national security, national integrity, kasama ang factor na meron tayong WPS issue with China. Kasama lahat yan. When we say national security, it encompasses everything, including but not limited to our fight against terrorism.”

Senate review of VFA:

We may have to be clarified muna kung ano ang intent or purpose ng review. Because to put it aptly, ang role ng Senado is to ratify, concur or reject sa bilateral agreement crafted by the executive branch along with the executive department of the other party. Hindi ko alam ano magiging purpose ng review unless baka mamaya we are unnecessarily encroaching on the authority of the executive. Sa kanila yan, ibibigay lang sa amin yan for ratification because it is so required under the Constitution. Dahil may threat to abrogate, and kung mangyari yan, ano pa magagawa ng Senate? Baka magkaroon pa ng issue between the Senate and the executive, na ano ire-review namin? We cannot even introduce amendments during plenary deliberations to ratify or not to ratify. Hanggang sa magdebate lang kami kung tama bang i-ratify namin, mag-concur kami, or reject namin. But not to introduce amendments. We cannot do that.”

“Even when we review the VFA, may provision doon it can be unilaterally terminated. May treaties na nakalagay under the Vienna Convention sa treaties. As a general principle, dapat may mutual consent between the 2 parties. May provisions doon na unless kung nagkaroon ng drastic change/s sa bilateral relations between the 2 countries bound by the treaty, pwedeng i-terminate pa rin unilaterally. Pero in the case of VFA malinaw na unilaterally pwede i-break.”

“Kaya sabi ko we may have to be clarified. Kasi baka ma-misinterpret ng executive branch kung ano ang purpose namin. Bakit kami magre-review ng provisions ng isang treaty that is being processed to be abrogated already?”

“We are all part of policy making. So whether papakinggan ng executive yan, pero gusto ko malaman anong purpose? Baka mamaya magkaroon ng misunderstanding or misinterpretation sa intent namin bakit review isang agreement the president has already decided.”

On possiblity of Senate asking for briefing from military officials:

“Kung matuloy ang review. Pero siguro in the oversight, kasi general ang oversight function ng Congress, Senate included. That is as far as we can go. We cannot do anything about the abrogation if it so happens.”

On whether the Senate defense committee can make recommendations to the President:

We will not do that unless requested, to be part of that study group or a committee na pagaralan ang benefits or advantages and disadvantages of breaking the treaty.”

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