By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA — Malacañang on Sunday denied that some Cabinet members have clashed over President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US).
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the clarification following news reports about the supposed inconsistencies regarding the revocation of the VFA.
In a press statement sent to Palace reporters on Sunday night, Panelo said it is “amusing” that some media outlets are claiming that Cabinet officials are contradicting one another about the President’s order to issue a notice of termination for the VFA.
“There is neither contradiction nor inconsistency among the statements made by this representation, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana concerning this matter,” he said.
“What is inaccurate and untrue are news articles saying that there is an internal clash within the President’s Cabinet on the situation. There is none. We are always in unison with respect to the policies enunciated by the President,” Panelo added.
He was referring to Medialdea and Lorenzana’s remarks on Saturday that the President has no instruction yet to send a formal notification to the US about the Philippines’ decision to scrap the VFA.
The two Cabinet officials’ statements came after Panelo announced on Friday that Duterte had instructed Medialdea to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send the notice of termination to the US government.
Panelo attested to the accuracy of Medialdea and Lorenzana’s statements.
“Secretary Lorenzana said that the President has not given any instruction to Secretary Locsin to undertake steps on the termination yet. Meanwhile, Executive Secretary Medialdea confirmed that he has not received any instruction to relay the message to anyone yet,” he said.
“If the President has not given his instruction yet, then the statements of Executive Secretary Medialdea and Secretary Lorenzana are accurate. This, however, does not mean that the information I shared with the media on the President’s decision with regard to the VFA is inaccurate or untrue. It simply means that the Executive Secretary has yet to receive the directive from the President,” Panelo added.
In an interview with dzIQ on Sunday morning, Panelo said the President is expected to transmit a formal written order to Medialdea on Monday with regard to the planned termination of VFA between Manila and Washington.
The VFA, signed in February 1998, sets conditions for the conduct of visit of US troops in the Philippines.
Under the agreement, American forces can visit the Philippines sans passport and visa regulations, and use their permits and licenses in the host country.
The agreement also provides that the Philippines will take primary jurisdiction over US military personnel who commit or are accused of a crime in the country unless the offense is related to US security or is only punishable under US law.
On the other hand, the US takes primary jurisdiction over their personnel if they commit offenses against US property or security or against fellow US personnel and their property. They also have primary jurisdiction over their personnel in offenses committed in the performance of official duty.
Duterte decided to revoke the VFA after the US cancelled the visa of his long-time ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa.
The VFA will be deemed terminated 180 days after the US receives formal notice of termination of the VFA from the Philippines. (PNA)