Scrapping the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement

July 30, 2021 | 10:46am
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Scrapping the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement
July 30, 2021

The Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, which President Rodrigo Duterte decided in February 2020 would be scrapped, will no longer be abrogated, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says.

Lorenzana says Duterte decided to revoke the termination of the agreement after a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday night. — Bella Perez-Rubio

June 14, 2021

President Rodrigo Duterte extends the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says.

"The president conveyed to us his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by another six months while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects for the agreement," Locsin says in a video posted on social media.

April 12, 2021

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military open the 36th Balikatan Exercise, which features military simulations made possible by the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The Balikatan comes after the termination of the VFA was suspended for a second six-month period and as tensions with China rise over its ships in the West Philippine Sea.



February 16, 2021

Sen. Panfilo Lacson reminds President Rodrigo Duterte that under the Constitution, a senator also has something to do with international agreements.

The president earlier told Lacson that he has nothing to do with the issue of the Visiting Forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

"Even an ordinary citizen of this country who feels embarrassed by his harsh, undiplomatic remarks concerning an existing bilateral agreement is guaranteed under the same Constitution to express his views. Not anyone, even he as President can curtail that basic right," Lacson says.

December 9, 2020

The US defense department has boostedthe Armed Forces of the Philippines' counter-terrorism capability with new equipment, the US Embassy in Manila says.

The capability upgrade is among the P1.4-billion ($29.3 million) in defense articles recently transferred to the AFP, Acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller tells senior Philippine military officials as he met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Tuesday in Manila.

In a statement provided by the US Embassy, Miller stresses the importance of the US-Philippine alliance to national and regional security.

Miller says the defense articles that were turned over last December 2 were transferred to several special mission units of the AFP to support its modernization goals.

The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) lauded the capability, especially the anti-Improvised Explosive Device equipment, which will form part of force protection noting that in the recent campaign troops have engaged terrorists rigging IEDs in its attacks.  — The STAR/Roel Pareño

November 12, 2020

"We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ November 11 decision to suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for another six months," the US Embassy says in a statement to mdia.

"The U.S.-Philippines alliance remains vital to our robust, deep-rooted bilateral relationship. The United States will continue to partner closely with the Philippines to strengthen our mutual security ties."

November 11, 2020

The Philippines extends the suspension of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to extend the VFA abrogation “to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”

June 3, 2020

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines will consult with the Office of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces on issues that need to be addressed on the suspension of the abrogation of the VFA with the United States.

According to Lorenzana, the country's defense establishment is ready to continue working with the US on common concerns, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In times of crises and global uncertainty, it is our belief that nations are only made stronger if we work together and focus our efforts on tackling the various challenges that confront us all," Lorenzana says in a statement.

June 2, 2020

The Philippines has suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US "in light of political and other developments" in the region, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says.

According to a diplomatic note that Locsin posted on his Twitter account, "the suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months" that the Philippines can extend for another six months.

The Philippines formally informed the US on February 11 that it is ending the VFA. Termination would have been effective 180 days from receipt of the notice.

March 5, 2020

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers is calling on the Senate to not get in the way of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, saying a resolution that the chamber adopted shows "who among our top legislators remain to be partial to the US."

The Senate this week adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the concurrence of the Senate is needed in abrogating treaties, as it is in ratifying them.

The move "seems like a thinly veiled, last minute attempt to salvage [the Philippines'] unequal ties with US, and puts into question our senators' loyalty to the country over protecting foreign interests," ACT national chairperson Joselyn Martinez says in a release.

"Legitimizing the use of our territories and resources for US military purposes violates our sovereignty. So does allowing US soldiers' presence in our lands all-year round and letting them get away with several cases of grave human rights violations against our peoples," Martinez also says.

March 1, 2020

The Philippines should enter into a military agreement with the US like the Visiting Forces Agreement but with the status of "a real treaty ratified by the Senate of the Philippines and Senate of the United States."

And the House of Representatives should be part of the negotiations for it, Rep. Raul Tupas (Iloilo) says in a release.

"Let us learn from the lessons of these past decades. The VFT should be a treaty between equal sovereign states, far removed from the relationship status of former colonizer and former colonized with excess baggage from World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War," Tupas, chair of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, says.

"While the Senate has the power of treaty concurrence, the House of Representatives has the power of the purse," he says as he urges the inclusion of legislators in the negotiations "for comprehensiveness, completeness, and circumspection before, during, and after the negotiations with the United States."

February 13, 2020

Military exercises with the US wthin the 180 days from the notice of termination will continue as planned, radio dzMM reports, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

February 13, 2020

Activist women's group Gabriela calls for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 in light of the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement that the Philippines sent the US on Monday.

"Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA's termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises," Gabriela, which has long protested against the VFA as well as the continuing presence of American troops in the Philippines, says in a release.

There are more than 300 military exercises and exchanges scheduled between the Philippine and American militaries this year.

February 12, 2020

For Malacañang, the decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is "a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's remarks that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA was "a move in the wrong direction" is expected as the defense pact favors Washington.

According to Panelo, relying on another country for defenses against enemies of the would eventually "weaken" and "stagnate" the Philippines' defense capabilities.

"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," Panelo said in a statement.

February 12, 2020

Senators are free to bring the issue of VFA termination to the Supreme Court, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says, pointing out however that although the 1987 Constitution requires Senate concurrence on the ratification of treaties, "there is nothing in the constitution that requires the concurrence of the Senate when it comes to termination of treaties."

He adds that "whether the president should at least consult the Senate is manifestly a political question that the Supreme Court will certainly refuse to resolve." 

February 12, 2020

The Philippines' termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement is a "move in the wrong direction," US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says in remarks published by the US Department of Defense.

"I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as — as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese, 'You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms.'," he says.

"I think it's a move in the wrong direction for — for, again, for the longstanding relationship we've had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries." 

He says that the move would affect efforts to "bolster our presence and compete with them (China) in this era of great power competition."

February 11, 2020

US Embassy in the Philippines Statement on the Visiting Forces Agreement

Manila, February 11, 2020 —The Department of Foreign Affairs informed us of the Philippines’ intent to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

This is a serious step with significant implications for the U.S.-Philippines alliance. We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.

Our two countries enjoy a warm relationship, deeply rooted in history. We remain committed to the friendship between our two peoples.  

February 11, 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte instructed the executive secretary last night to tell Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to send the US the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo says in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Panelo made a similar announcement last Friday and then said over the weekend to wait for Duterte to give the order on Monday.

February 10, 2020

Senators adopt Senate Resolution 312 which asks President Duterte to reconsider abrogating the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and US while the chamber is reviewing the 20-year-old security pact.

— The STAR/Paolo Romero

February 10, 2020

President Duterte says US President Donald Trump is trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement.

"Sabi ko ayaw ko. One is napakabastos ng Amerikano. Talagang sobrang bastos," Duterte says in a speech Monday.



February 6, 2020

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto says the Philippines should not rush scrapping the Visiting Force Agreement with the US, saying that can be done later "in a manner that is not rushed, but planned and programmed, and not out of pique."

"Certainly not this time when an intruder has built and continues to build what have become the bases of our insecurity right under our belly," he says.

"If we abrogate the VFA, this sharp contrast will not escape our people's attention:  On how we could let the red carpet stay for someone who has taken our land while booting the one who has been on our side in protesting such occupation," he also says.

February 6, 2020

Although President Rodrigo Duterte has already said that he is terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippines has not officially sent a notice of termination to the US.

Under the agreement, parties must give a formal notice of termination. The VFA remains in force for 180 days from the notice of termination.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says that although a formal notice has not been sent, "we are prepared to do so."

February 4, 2020

The Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (PCVF), which is chaired by the secretary of foreign affairs and under the supervision of the Office of the President, will submit its impact assessment on the termination of the agreement with the US this week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra says.

Guevarra, a member of the commission, had been tasked with conducting a review of the potential effects of the termination of the VFA although President Rodrigo Duterte has said he has already decided on ending the agreement, which covers the status of American troops in the Philippines and Filipino counterparts in the US.

Guevarra says the commission will submit its report and "leave the matter to [the president]."

January 30, 2020

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto says planned reviews of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US—at the Senate and by the Department of Justice—are a good venue to weigh what the Philippines will gain or lose from scrapping the agreement.

He says the reviews can look into "weightier" arguments for either keeping or terminating the decades-old VFA. 

"Because what if the US restores the visa of my good friend Senator Bato, are we then going to reverse course, and press the stop button to the revocation process which, per reports, has been started?"

January 29, 2020

Magdalo party-list, which has fielded former military officers in congressional elections, has filed a resolution opposing the Duterte administration's plan to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, saying the "impulsive decision to abrogare the VFA [is] based merely on personal motivations."

Rep. Manuel Cabochan III, a former Navy officer, says in his resolution that scrapping the agreemnt "will compromise the longstanding and cordial diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the US."

The Armed Forces of the Philippines traces its lineage to the Philippine Scouts and the Philippine Constabulary, which were formed while the Philippines was under the US. Its weapons, and equipment as well as its tactics and doctrine are from or were influenced by US forces, with which Filipino troops continue to train with.

Many top AFP officials have had training in or from the US.

January 29, 2020

Sen. Richard Gordon, a former Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chairman and former mayor of Olongapo City, says the Senate has the power to review and concur in treaties.

The Palace has maintained, even during the Philippines' withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, that the Senate's concurrence is only needed for ratification, not withdrawal.

"Napakahalaga ng agreement na ito at baka mainit lang ang ulo ng presidente nung sinabi niya yun," the ABS-CBN News Channel quotes him as saying.

(This is such an important agreement and maybe the president was just angry when he said that)

The US Navy used to have a base at Subic while Olongapo had businesses catering to the needs of US personnel in Subic and in Clark Air Force Base.

January 29, 2020

Former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a former Navy officer, says although the Visiting Forces Agreement is not perfect, "it has been in place for more than 20 years now, simply because it serves our national interest."

He says the Philippines has benefited from the VFA through equipment and training as well as through intelligence for counter-terrorism operations.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.

That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.

Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".

The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.

Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.

Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos

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