No more joint training with US after 180-day VFA transition period

No more joint training with US after 180-day VFA transition period
In this April 5, 219 photo, the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) maneuvers alongside the Philippine Navy offshore patrol vessel BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PS 16) in support of Exercise Balikatan 2019.
US Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker

MANILA, Philippines — There will be no more military exercises between the Philippines and the US once the Visiting Forces Agreement expires in August, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.

The two countries, which have been holding the annual Balikatan military exercises for decades, have more than 300 military exercises and engagements planned this year.

Lorenzana said those that fall within the 180-day period after notice of termination that the VFA remains in force will proceed as scheduled but also said "our American counterparts may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up."

Lorenzana, a former military attaché to Wahsington, said that "once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them."

Activist women's group Gabriela earlier on Thursday called for the outright cancellation of the planned military activities.

"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, said.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper told reporters in a phone briefing on Monday that the near-term effect of the VFA would be on the "about 300 engagements and exercises that we conduct bilaterally with the Philippines." 

"What's at risk without a VFA?  Well, without a VFA, it puts at risk things like these engagements, like these exercises," he said.

READ: AFP eyes VFAs with China, Japan

Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, said Wednesday that the Philippines will manage even without US assistance made possible through the VFA.

"It has already been decided. What the AFP will do is to prepare for not having a VFA," Santos said.

"Part of filling the gap is we will increase our bilateral exercises, agreement with other countries not only United Sates, the only SOVFA (Status of Visiting Forces Agreement) we have is Australia, so with the help of the Congress and the Senate we will push for the approval of (agreements with) the other countries like South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and other allied countries," he said.

The Philippine military is also considering more agreements with China, with which the country has a maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

"We have understandings on intelligence information exchange, exchange of training (with other countries), so we will now push for SOVFA and maritime exercises, same with the Air Force," Santos said. 




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