Nada, awan, wala! Defense chief says no Duterte order yet to send notice to terminate VFA

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 08 2020 04:03 PM | Updated as of Feb 08 2020 04:44 PM

A Philippine Air Force UH-1H "Huey" helicopter ferries troops shortly after taking part in the Joint US-Philippine military exercise Balikatan 2019 at Crow Valley, Capas, Tarlac, April 10, 2019. Bullit Marquez, AP/File

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - 'Fake news.'

This was how Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana described information a Palace official sent out Friday night on President Rodrigo Duterte's supposed instruction for the Philippines to officially notify the United States on its intent to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

In a text exchange with reporters Saturday, Lorenzana said: "This is fake news. Sec. Locsin has not [seen] the order yet."

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo had told reporters Friday that the President has already ordered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send the VFA termination notice to the US.

“He said, and I quote him, 'I will instruct the Executive Secretary (Salvador Medialdea) to tell the DFA Secretary (Teodoro Locsin Jr) to send notice of termination to the US government,'" Panelo said.

Panelo also said Duterte and Trump were due to speak by phone.

But Lorenzana said Medialdea himself said there was no such order yet.

“Yes, according to Sec Medialdea! None. Nada. Zilch. Awan. Wala! Anggapo,” said Lorenzana.

In a statement later Saturday, Medialdea confirmed that he has not received such instruction yet.

“As of date I have not received any instruction to relay any message to anyone,” he said.

Panelo, meanwhile, insisted "there is no inconsistency" between what he told the media on Friday and Lorenzana's statements Saturday.

"What SND (Lorenzana) meant is ES (Medialdea) has yet to receive the instruction. That is what ES also told me last night that he has not received the instruction yet from PRRD (President Duterte)," he said in a statement.

"There is no inconsistency. I was quoting PRRD of what he told me. If he has not given the instruction yet to ES it does not mean the info I shared to media is untrue. It only means ES has not yet gotten the directive from PRRD," he added.

In a separate text message to ABS-CBN News, Lorenzana reiterated that all joint Philippine-US military activities are to continue if they fall within 180 days of the official transmittal of the termination papers.

“That is if the Americans still want to do it,” he said.

Duterte had ordered the termination of the VFA after the cancellation of the US visa of his long-time ally, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who led his drug war when he was police chief.

The VFA governs the conduct of US forces while in the Philippines.

Other than this agreement, Philippine-US defense ties also fall under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which binds both sides to come to each other's defense in case of an attack, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows greater rotational presence of American troops in the Philippines.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said he may pursue a Senate resolution calling for a review of the VFA "and appealing to the President to reconsider the termination."

The Senate earlier this week held a hearing on the VFA, where officials cited the country's benefits from the pact.

- with reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News