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Philippine senator on impact assessment of scrapping military agreement with US: ‘Better late than never’

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MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer) — Independent Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson on Tuesday lauded the administration’s decision ordering the Department of Justice to conduct an “impact assessment” before acting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier threat to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA with the United States.

Panfilo “Ping” Lacson

“Better late than never,” Lacson said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting mistakes, no matter how subtle its rectification is done,” the senator added. “I hope this ends well for the good of the entire nation.”

Duterte last week said he would terminate the VFA unless the United States “corrected” the visa cancellation of his political ally, former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, now a senator.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who previously said he would present on Monday the legal steps needed to abrogate the treaty, instead disclosed the administration’s directive to closely study the effect of ending the 20-year-old military agreement, an apparent softening of Duterte’s previous stance.

Lacson, chair of the Senate defense and security committee, said the administration may have figured out that the president’s “knee-jerk reaction due to some petty and personal reasons might have some dire implications on the country’s national interest.”

The senator said the administration should observe “complete staff work,” a guideline often implemented in the military service, before arriving at a decision on sensitive bilateral agreements with other countries.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, the president’s trusted aide, said Duterte “just wants to see all the recommendations [of pertinent agencies] first before making his decision on [the matter].”

The president was merely “concerned” over the visa cancellation of one of its senators and did not consider Dela Rosa’s visa problem a “special case” that needed explanation from Washington, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

“When we banned the [three U.S.] senators, we stated the reasons why. Now the [U.S. is] also banning a senator, it’s the same,” Panelo said in a press briefing on Tuesday, referring to Duterte’s directive on the U.S. senators who proposed an entry ban on Filipino officials involved in the arrest and detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.

Told that the United States had also reportedly canceled the visa of other officials in previous administrations, Panelo said “those governments were not concerned. This administration is concerned about all our citizens.”

Panelo argued anew that the United States, as “a matter of courtesy,” should have informed the Philippine government of the reasons behind the revocation of Dela Rosa’s visa, and added that the Philippine government was “not intruding” when it asked the U.S. government for an explanation on Dela Rosa’s canceled visa.

But in May last year, the administration said it was keeping its hands off the controversy involving former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, who was denied entry in Hong Kong because of unspecified “immigration reasons.”

Panelo said the Philippines “cannot intrude into the immigration laws of any country in the same way that we expect that they cannot intrude into ours.”

The administration was similarly dismissive of the case of former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who was also barred from Hong Kong in June last year, with Panelo saying that one cannot question the right of a country to stop any visitor wanting to enter that particular country.

“That’s their exclusive domain,” he said. “That’s absolute authority for a particular country to deny entry to their country.”

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