'Change not coming' on decision to scrap VFA, Roque says, just a suspension

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
'Change not coming' on decision to scrap VFA, Roque says, just a suspension
In this June 30, 2017 photo, during the 2017 maritime training activitity, U.S. Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 3d Marine Division helped Philippine Marines to improve their basic urban warfare techniques based on feedback from Philippine military forces in Marawi.
US Embassy / Released

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has not changed his mind about terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Malacañang said Thursday as it clarified that only the termination process of the treaty has been suspended.

"When it comes to the VFA, what was suspended was the process of termination. The president has no new decision when it comes to the termination," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.

"He did not say that the termination would no longer push through, so the president has not changed his mind," he added.

The VFA, which was signed by the Philippines and the US in 1998, allows Filipino and American forces to hold joint trainings in Philippine soil. The Senate ratified the treaty in 1999 despite concerns that it would violate Philippine sovereignty.  

Last January, Duterte announced that he is terminating the VFA because of the cancellation of the US visa of his political ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

Officials, however, claimed that the issue on dela Rosa's visa was just one of the reasons that impelled the president to scrap the treaty.

They cited the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the demand of some American senators to free detained opposition senator Leila de Lima; and the US travel ban against persons responsible for her detention.

Roque said the suspension of the termination of VFA has nothing to do with the anti-terrorism bill that is moving in Congress.

He said the VFA and other security agreements with other allies are important at a time when the world is facing terrorist threats.

"The face of terrorism has changed. It does not have any border and does not side with any country. All our allies —  America, China, Russia, India, Australia, all of them are important," the Palace spokesman said.

"The VFA is as important as our other relations with our neighbors, our allies. All of them are our friends and we do not have enemies except the terrorists," he added. 

Locsin: A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. on Tuesday announced that the president had ordered the suspension of the VFA. The following day, Locsin said the coronavirus pandemic and "heightened superpower tensions" had prompted Duterte to make the decision.

Locsin said in a televised speech that 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.

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.





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