In this Apr. 10, 2020 photo, Philippines and U.S. service members load boxes of donated cots into a truck for delivery to the Philippines Office of Civil Defense to help the country’s COVID-19 response efforts.
US Embassy/Released, file
Duterte saw 'untimely' abrogation of VFA with US during COVID-19 pandemic — Lorenzana
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - June 3, 2020 - 11:16am

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1, 11:51 a.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte thought it was not timely to end the country's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, Defense Secretary Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana welcomed the suspension of the abrogation of the military pact, which was supposed to end in August.

In a virtual interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source", the Defense chief said he was told that the Philippines needs cooperation from other countries amid the pandemic, which has infected more than 6 million people across the globe.

"We need to cooperate with other countries to fight the pandemic and I think the president (Duterte) thought that it's untimely to end the VFA at this moment," Lorenzana said in the interview Wednesday morning.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced Tuesday that he sent a diplomatic note to US Ambassador Sung Kim over the suspension of the Philippines' withdrawal from the VFA.

Locsin said he sent the note on the suspension of the abrogation of the VFA upon the instruction of Duterte.

Asked if he was consulted on Duterte's decision to temporarily halt the termination of the military pact, Lorenzana said the issue came in a meeting with the president about a month ago.

"We discussed about it... I think he said it's not timely to end the VFA because of what's happening worldwide," Lorenzana said.

With the six-month suspension of the abrogation of the VFA, Lorenzana said the US may increase its assistance to the Philippines to fight the COVID-19 crisis.

"They already gave us some help, assistance especially in providing equipment in our quarantine facilities," Lorenzana said.

Data from the US Embassy as of May 19 show that the US government has provided more than P785 million (nearly $15.5 million) worth of COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines.

The US government's assistance to the Philippines has so far supported the increase of DOH testing capacity, upgraded laboratories and strengthened specimen transport system.

The US government had also donated nearly 1,300 new cots valued at P9.3 million and delivered P10 million worth personal protective equipment to 14 health facilities across the country.

Locsin cites Duterte's 'change us coming' 

In a televised speech, Locsin said the government is looking forward to continuing the country's strong military partnership with the US.

Locsin also cited Duterte's campaign slogan during the 2016 presidential elections to justify the president's decision to delay the abrogation of the VFA.

"I will answer only one question which I will ask myself: Why did he change his mind? A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything. He ran on the slogan 'change is coming,'" Locsin said.

Duterte has always taken a hostile stance toward the US following criticism against his anti-drugs campaign in the Philippines. 

Locsin, however, assured the public that Duterte's latest action on the defense pact with the US should not alarm other countries in Asia or the rest of the world.

"But in the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, the time of pandemic and heightened super power tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world," Locsin said.

DELFIN LORENZANA RODRIGO DUTERTE US-PHILIPPINES 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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