MANILA — The Philippines may consider forming a military pact with other countries, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday, a day after the country terminated a key deal in its defense alliance with the US.
During a meeting of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces, "it was mentioned... that we may consider having similar VFAs with other countries to continue the training of our military personnel," Guevarra told reporters.
Asked if China would be among the countries considered for a potential pact, Guevarra said, "Maybe more like Australia."
President Rodrigo Duterte, through his cabinet officials, notified the US on Tuesday that Philippines was quitting the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), following the visa cancellation of his ally and drug war soldier, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.
The 1998 VFA is the legal framework for the presence of US troops on Philippine soil and is central to hundreds of annual, joint military exercises, which are a major component of their deep military ties.
The pact requires a 180-day notice to quit, which will likely set off a period of negotiation between the 2 countries.
"This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance," the US embassy in Manila said in a statement.
"We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests," the US embassy added.
OK WITHOUT SENATE NOD?
The VFA is divisive in the Philippines, with leftist and nationalist critics long arguing it guarantees special treatment for US service members accused of crimes.
Defenders of the decades-old agreement say ending it could both degrade the Philippines' ability to defend itself and undermine Washington's moves against Beijing's rise, particularly in the disputed South China Sea.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, an advocate of the pact, told lawmakers last week it was fundamental to the US alliance, which had provided tens of millions of dollars in support, equipment and training for the Philippine armed forces.
"Terminating the VFA will negatively impact its (the Philippines') defense and security," Locsin said.
"Our contribution to regional defense is anchored on our military alliance with the world's last superpower," he added.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said his chamber might ask the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the administration's move to scrap the VFA without seeking lawmakers' approval.
The constitution does not require Senate concurrence to end treaties, said Guevarra.
"Although a treaty is considered part of the law of the land, it does not belong to the class of ordinary statutes that pass through the entire legislative process," he said.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER PACTS?
Some lawmakers are concerned that without the VFA, 2 other pacts would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).
The MDT requires one party to defend the other in case of external aggression, while the 2014 EDCA, an executive agreement, allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country.
The Philippines could enter "future new arrangements... that will give teeth and muscle" to the MDT or "it may be scrapped altogether," said Guevarra.
"Foreign policy is dynamic; it evolves with the times," he said.
With reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News; Reuters; Agence France-Presse