President Rodrigo R. Duterte (File photo)

MANILA — The Philippines’ termination of the 22-year-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) will push through, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday.

The President said he was serious when he announced that he would revoke the VFA between Manila and Washington.

“I am terminating (the VFA). I am also not joking. The day I said it was the day I decided it should be terminated,” Duterte said in a chance interview on the sidelines of the celebration of the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Quezon City.

“When you say that I want this terminated, in that agreement or whatever, there are rules to follow, (like) the winding up, the return (of) the properties used during the life of the contract until it was revoked. Ganoon lang yun (That’s how it goes),” he added.

On Jan. 23, Duterte first announced his plan to scrap the VFA between the Philippines and the US within one month, unless Washington fails to “correct” the cancellation of Senator Ronal dela Rosa’s US visa.

The VFA, signed by the two countries on Feb. 10, 1998, allows US forces to enter the Philippines without passport and visa restrictions.

American troops, according to the agreement, can also use their permits and licenses in the Philippines.

Under the VFA, the US also has the jurisdiction over its military personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines, unless their unlawful acts are punishable in Manila.

The Philippines can revoke the VFA by sending a formal notification to the US, signifying its intent to cancel the deal.

The President’s latest decision came following an amendment to the US 2020 budget, which authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar Philippine government officials involved in Senator Leila de Lima’s “wrongful detention” from entering the US.

De Lima, who has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017, supposedly had a key role in the drug proliferation inside the national penitentiary during her stint as Justice secretary.

Apart from the amendment to the US budget, the American senators have also passed Senate Resolution 142, asking US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials allegedly behind de Lima’s detention.

Duterte admitted that he was prompted to terminate the VFA due to the travel ban order issued against Filipino officials linked to de Lima’s arrest.

“It started when they mentioned about the US resolution in the US Senate. They were trying to figure out who would be the persons who will be barred from entering. Noon pa lang, ‘yung utak ko gumagalaw na. Ganoon ako (I have been thinking about it for some time already. That’s how I think),” Duterte said.

“Hindi naman ako naghihintay (I am not waiting for anything). I just announced it late. Pinapauna ko pero (I have already thought about it and) at that time, I have decided they do this. I will do it not only for dela Rosa but for every Filipino, lalo na yung mga taga-gobyerno na pupunta doon (especially the government workers who will go there) supposedly to attend a business concern officially,” he added.

‘Boycott’ US

In response to the travel ban order imposed by the US, the President also ordered his Cabinet men to “boycott” Washington.

He said he will direct Cabinet officials to avoid traveling to the US “indefinitely.”

“I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time. No Cabinet member should be allowed to go to the United States,” Duterte said. “(It will be) indefinitely. So that we limit our contact in whatever aspect of international relations would be discussed or subject to laws.”

Duterte’s announcement came nearly a week after Malacañang announced that he rejected Trump’s invitation to attend the Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4.

The President, who repeatedly branded Trump as his friend, said he had to skip the summit due to “strategic geopolitical considerations.”

He, however, did not elaborate on his reason.

Duterte said he has no plan of sending a representative for the upcoming summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“I do not want proxies there. That’s what I’ve noticed. When a head of state is absent, his chair remains empty. Nobody sits there. So wala siguro. Wala akong maituturo na proxy ko or who will act as proxy (So perhaps, I will have no representative. I will not name any proxy or anyone who will act as proxy),” he said. (PNA)