In this April 5, 2019 photo, US Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, hike with Philippine Marines on their way to conduct room clearing drills during Exercise Balikatan at the Navy Education Training Command in Zambales.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Christian Ayers
Termination of Visiting Forces Agreement with US on hold
(Philstar.com) - June 2, 2020 - 8:53pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:15 a.m., June 3, 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. announced on social media.

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 countdown to the termination of the agreement, as communicated to the US in February, will continue after that.

"I issued this diplomatic note to the US ambassador. It has been received by Washington and well at that. The Note is self-explanatory and does not require comment except from me. The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement has been suspended upon the president’s instruction," Locsin said.

The US Embassy in Manila confirmed that on June 1, it has received the notification from the Philippine government to suspend termination of the VFA.

"The United States welcomes the Philippine government's decision. Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines," the US Embassy said in a statement.

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.

President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to scrap the VFA came amid the administration's shift to strengthening ties with non-traditional partners like China and Russia and tension over concerns that the US raised over the human rights situation in the Philippines, which the government said was interference with domestic issues.

RELATED: Palace: Provision barring De Lima jailers from US actually exists | 'Why blame me?': Bato 'bothered' that canceled visa led to VFA termination

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in February that the move to terminate the agreement was unfortunate. The militaries of the Philippines and the US had around 300 military engagements planned in 2020, although these have been cancelled by Duterte's decision on the VFA as well as by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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 said then.

The termination of the VFA, analysts said, could also scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allowed American troops to use some Philippine military facilities.

The US Embassy in Manila said in February that Washington will remain committed to the friendship between the two countries.

"This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance. We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests," the US Embassy said then.

US President Donald Trump said then of Duterte's cancellation of the VFA: "If they would like to do that, that's fine. We'll save a lot of money."

PHILIPPINES-US MILITARY EXERCISES PHILIPPINES-US TIES VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 3, 2020 - 9:16am

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

June 3, 2020 - 9:16am

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 - 8:24pm

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 - 1:34pm

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 - 9:27am

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 - 9:44am

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.

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