Admiral John Aquilino, speaking through a teleconference with local and foreign media from Da Nang, Vietnam, said the US Navy will continue to operate together with the Philippine Navy.
PO 2nd Class Will Gaskill/US Navy Media Content Operations/AFP/File
US Pacific Fleet commander values alliance with Philippines
Jaime Laude (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The United States Navy may be disappointed with Manila’s move to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), but it still values its alliance with the Philippines, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet said Friday.

Admiral John Aquilino, speaking through a teleconference with local and foreign media from Da Nang, Vietnam, said the US Navy will continue to operate together with the Philippine Navy.

“It’s a little disappointing that… at this point we value our alliance with the Philippines. We continue to operate together with the Philippine Navy and we’ll see where this current narrative goes,” Aquilino said.

He was responding to a question on the Philippines-US alliance in reference to the VFA termination that takes effect in the middle of this year and the US Navy’s ongoing maritime and naval operations in the Indo-Pacific region.

The US Pacific Fleet commander and US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink were at Da Nang in time for the port call of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill.

The US Navy has been conducting sustained Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) and overflights over the South China Sea, all aimed at challenging Beijing’s massive occupation and military buildup in the hotly-disputed region.

As per President Duterte’s order, the Department of Foreign Affairs officially served a notice of termination of the VFA to the US government last month. Its termination will take effect in 180 days.

Aquilino said the VFA termination is a political issue that is within the domain of the State Department.

“Let me just say that I won’t comment on any operations that the US Navy will do. We are executing normal events with our friends from the Philippines,” Aquilino said.

Asked if the US Navy is open to doing joint naval maneuvers with the Vietnam Navy in the South China Sea, he said the US Navy will sail, steam or fly anywhere international law allows, anytime.

When pressed to respond if the VFA abrogation would push the US Navy to other Southeast Asian navies due to lost relations with the Philippines, Aquilino said it is the Navy’s position that relations with the Philippines are not lost.

“We don’t believe that relationship has been lost. We work with all of the nations throughout the region to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Speaking about his visit at Da Nang, Aquilino said that out of all the Spratly-claimant states, Vietnam is in the forefront in challenging China’s nine-dash-line massive maritime claim in the South China Sea that encroaches not only into its own 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ)  but also the EEZs of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“Our commitment to each other (US and Vietnam), including this week’s visits, will help ensure a stable, predictable, and durable relationship – again, based on mutual interests, values and trust,” he said.

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