Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez discusses the post-Visiting Forces Agreement of the Philippines-US alliance at a forum organized by Stratbase ADR Institute in Makati City. Toledo IV
Philippine, US envoys working on new defense pact after VFA termination
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - February 28, 2020 - 4:09pm

MANILA, Philippines— Diplomatic officials are discussing a new defense pact with the US that could replace the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a signal that the Philippines’ oldest military alliance with Washington is not about to end with President Duterte’s abrupt abrogation of the agreement.

“We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come out with something similar, perhaps again still following the president's thinking about the sovereignty issue,” Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said on Friday.

“From what I'm told, the door is not totally shut... But again, the bottom-line always falls on sovereignty,” he said in a forum organized by Stratbase ADR Institute, a think tank.

Romualdez did not divulge details on the progress of talks, saying only that discussions are currently limited at the “diplomatic level" involving US envoy Sung Kim.

That said, ongoing negotiations signal Manila is not about to decouple from its long-standing military partnership with the US, a fear shared by other attendees of the forum led by former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.

“As Malacanang mentioned, this may only be the first step to ultimately putting an end to all Philippine-US defense agreements,” Del Rosario said.

Going against his foreign and defense advisers, Duterte ordered the unilateral revocation of VFA early this month as a direct response to Washington’s cancellation of Sen. Ronald de la Rosa’s US visa. De la Rosa is a staunch Duterte ally that once served as his police chief.

VFA governs the presence of US military personnel and assets in the Philippines, and has been the basis of intelligence sharing, military training under Balikatan exercises and humanitarian aid from the US.

That said, the agreement had also come under fire in the past since it essentially allows US personnel in the Philippines convicted of a local crime to be handed over to American jurisdiction. This was well-cited in a 2006 rape case involving former lance corporal Daniel Smith. 

Military to have a say

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, will remain in force until August, when the 180-day period of notification ends, but this early Romualdez assured the public that the Philippines will remain at the US’s side. “VFA is not really the kind of end-all and be-all…,” he said.

Without the agreement, questions linger on how the Philippines would enforce a prevailing mutual defense treaty with the US as well as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which is in the form of an executive pact. No less than Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin earlier likened the two sans VFA to a “deflated balloon.”

“We continue to forge ahead with the kind of relationship that we're trying to develop considering all of these things that are happening,” Romualdez said.

As talks progress for a new military agreement, Romualdez said that it would be the military which would make the final recommendation to Duterte on what to pursue.

“My responsibility is to continue to assure our friends in Washington DC that this is something we have to face — the decision made by the president so we have to start moving forward seeing how we can continue our relationship,” he said.

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