MANILA— A military agreement that allows the deployment of troops from the United States to the Philippines to conduct military exercises should be scrapped but not because of President Rodrigo Duterte's political ally, an activist group said Friday.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) questioned Duterte's reason for threatening to end the VFA following the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, his former police chief and long-time ally.
Duterte gave the Americans a month to restore Dela Rosa's visa, or else he would push through with rescinding the treaty.
Bayan has long been calling for the scrapping of the VFA, as it has been opposed to US military presence in the country.
"The termination of the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) should not be used as a mere bargaining chip just so [Sen. Ronald] Bato [dela Rosa] can have his US visa back," BAYAN secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said in a statement.
"What kind of foreign policy is that? Terminating a treaty based on the personal interest of Duterte's ally?" he added.
Malacañang said it has started the process of terminating the military agreement with the US upon Duterte's order.
Dela Rosa was the chief enforcer of Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, which has led to the deaths of more than 5,500 people.
Reyes, whose group has been critical of the administration's policies including alleged extrajudicial killings in the drug war, said the VFA should have long been canceled.
"The VFA should have been terminated a long time ago. We have heard Duterte say in the past that he will cancel all US military exercises yet this never happened," he said.
"Now comes Digong threatening to terminate the VFA over the cancellation of Sen. Bato dela Rosa's US visa. Either Duterte is again posturing or just trivializing the issue," he said.
The 1998 military agreement, which lays out the terms on the entry and visit of US military personnel for military exercises, is an affront to Philippine sovereignty, Reyes said.
"It allows an unlimited number of US troops to stay in the Philippines for an unlimited time, doing unspecified activities," he said.