US wishes Philippines a 'prosperous' Independence Day amid VFA uncertainty 

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
US wishes Philippines a 'prosperous' Independence Day amid VFA uncertainty 
The Philippine flag is seen in this file photo
The STAR / Krizjohn Rosales, File

MANILA, Philippines — The American state department on Wednesday released a statement in anticipation of Philippine Independence Day on June 12. 

“On behalf of the Government of the United States of America, I wish the people of the Republic of the Philippines a happy and prosperous independence day on June 12,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said.

Pompeo went on to celebrate the strong partnership between the two countries. 

“The U.S.-Philippine alliance is fortified by our shared history, rich people-to-people ties, and deep bilateral cooperation. As we stood together during World War II and in the global fight against terrorism, our nations are partnering again to contain and mitigate COVID-19. Our friendship and cooperation stand as a model for ensuring peace, stability, prosperity, and health across the Indo-Pacific,” he said. 

This statement comes amid some uncertainty over the future of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which the Philippines has terminated.

The VFA allows Filipino and American forces to hold joint trainings on Philippine soil. It was signed by the Philippines and the US in 1998 and ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999. 

Last January, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his plan to terminate the VFA after his political ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa was cancelled.

Officials claim that the move was also in response to the US Senate resolution condemning the human rights violations in the Philippines and the call made by some American senators for detained opposition senator Leila de Lima to be freed.  

The decision to scrap the VFA was made formal in February, kicking off a 180-day countdown for it to expire.

However, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. announced earlier this month that the president ordered the suspension of the termination of the VFA. The suspension is for six months but can be extended for another six. 

Locsin said the coronavirus pandemic and "heightened superpower tensions" had prompted Duterte to make the decision.

Gen. Gilbert Gapay, commander of the Philippine Army, welcomed the chief executive’s decision, saying it would help the country as it continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also stressed the long-established relationship between the two states, anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has clarified, however, that Duterte has not changed his mind about the termination of the agreement. 

“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,” he said at a press briefing.

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