Philippines begins termination of US deal

Earlier, Duterte said he would give the US a month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa. (AP)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Philippines begins termination of US deal

  • The move comes after Washington canceled the visa of President Duterte's ally

MANILA: The Philippines has started the process of terminating the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows the deployment of US forces to the country to conduct military exercises, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced on Friday.
The move comes one day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to do away with the agreement if the US did not reinstate the visa of his political ally and former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.
Although in a speech on Thursday night the president said he would give the US one month to restore Dela Rosa’s visa before terminating the VFA, Panelo told reporters the process had already begun.
“The President feels that we cannot sit down and watch idly,” he said, adding he had relayed the matter to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
Locsin, in a Twitter post on Friday, confirmed he had called Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “to start the process of terminating the VFA.”
Lorenzana, in a statement on Friday evening, said that he would discuss with the president “the various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA, and what future actions may be undertaken by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) regarding this matter.”
The defense chief said he could understand why the president was angered by the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, over alleged extrajudicial killings in connection with the government’s anti-drug war.
“It is a direct affront to (the president) being the architect of the drug war upon his assumption of office,” the defense chief said.
He noted that Duterte ordered Dela Rosa when he was installed as police chief in 2016 to launch the drug war, and promised to back him. “He is just being true to his promise,” Lorenzana stressed.
Dela Rosa himself said details surrounding the revocation of his US visa remain unclear to him. He added that it “might be related” to the anti-drug war.
The Philippines Department of Justice said it was studying the “proper procedure to terminate the VFA.”
Responses from Philippine lawmakers have been mixed.
“In the absence of a Philippines Supreme Court ruling on the president’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA, without the consent of a 2/3 supermajority vote of the members of the senate, the president can do that without the senate’s approval or consent,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the VFA termination would work in favor of China, and so did not come as a surprise.
According to Lorenzana: “The termination of the VFA may be unilaterally initiated by the Philippines, and it is well within the right of the government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest.
“Such a termination does not need the approval of the Philippine Congress. All that is required is that a notice of termination be served to the US government. The termination shall take effect 180 days after the date of the notice,” the defense chief stressed.


Children killed in Afghan air strike that hit mosque: officials

Updated 58 min 4 sec ago

Children killed in Afghan air strike that hit mosque: officials

  • Provincial police spokesman Khalil Aseer: The air strike was carried out when the victims were busy studying the Holy Qur’an
  • The ministry of defense — who confirmed the strike was carried out by the Afghan air force — denied civilians had died

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan: An air strike by the Afghan military killed 11 children and a prayer leader at a mosque, local authorities said Thursday, in an account disputed by the national government.
The strike on a village in northeastern Takhar province on Wednesday came as Afghan security forces clashed with suspected Taliban fighters, according to provincial police spokesman Khalil Aseer.
“The air strike was carried out when the victims were busy studying the Holy Qur’an,” Aseer said, adding a prayer leader was killed and 11 students.
He said 14 others were wounded.
Mohammad Jawad Hejri, the spokesman for the provincial governor, also said the strike had killed children.
But the ministry of defense — who confirmed the strike was carried out by the Afghan air force — denied civilians had died.
“Twelve Taliban including several of their commanders were killed,” it said.
Afghanistan’s Vice President Amrullah Saleh said news that children had died in a mosque “was baseless.”
“Those who spread rumors will be dealt with,” he wrote on Facebook.
The ministry of defense said it had appointed a team to investigate.
“The enemy bombarded the mosque at a time when tens of children were busy in religious studies,” the Taliban said in a statement, adding the air strike had destroyed the mosque.
The Afghan military has a fledgeling air force and small attack planes capable of conducting limited close-air support for troops on the ground.
Heavy fighting in Takhar since Tuesday has left at least 25 Afghan security personnel dead, officials have said.
Despite joining peace talks with the government in Qatar last month, the Taliban have only increased violence in a bid to wield leverage in the negotiations.
The top US envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said earlier this week that fighting is threatening the peace process.