Philippine leader threatens to end US pact over ally’s visa

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — The Philippine President has renewed a threat to terminate an accord that allows American forces to train in the country unless Washington restored a visa of a political ally linked to human rights violations.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in a speech on Thursday night that he would give notice to the United States (US) terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement, known by its acronym VFA, if the reported cancellation of the entry visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa was not corrected within a month.

“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate the … Visiting Forces Agreement. I’ll end that,” Duterte said in televised remarks in central Leyte province.

Duterte also rejected an invitation by US President Donald Trump to join a special meeting the US leader will host for leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in March in Las Vegas, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. The Philippines is a founding member of the 10-nation regional bloc.

Duterte’s rejection was partly sparked by the US cancellation of dela Rosa’s visa, Panelo said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. PHOTO: AP

The security accord, which took effect in 1999, provides the legal cover for American troops to enter the Philippines for joint training with Filipino troops. A separate defence pact subsequently signed by the treaty allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowed the extended stay of US forces and authorised them to build and maintain barracks and other facilities in designated Philippine military camps.

There was no immediate reaction from US officials. Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said yesterday his department would study how the agreement’s abrogation could be done.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the Supreme Court should soon respond to a petition asking whether the Senate’s consent is needed before the executive department can terminate a bilateral agreement or a treaty that senators had ratified. The Philippine Senate ratified the VFA after lengthy debates.

Duterte first threatened to abrogate the VFA in late 2016 after a US aid agency put on hold funds for anti-poverty projects in the Philippines. The 74-year-old leader, who has been harshly critical of US policies while often praising China and Russia, has walked back on his public threats before.

Despite Duterte’s critical stance, US-Philippine defence ties have remained robust and joint military exercises even increased in numbers last year.

Aside from threatening to take down the VFA, Duterte said without elaborating that he would ban some US senators from entering the Philippines.