Duterte extends suspension of VFA termination

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:50 p.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to extend the suspension of the Philippines' withdrawal from its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Wednesday.

Locsin said Duterte instructed him to convey his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the defense pact with the country's longtime ally and former colonizer for another six months.

The president came with the decision "to enable us to find a more enhanced,  mutually beneficial,  mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense."

In a statement addressed to US National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, Locsin said he will send a diplomatic note about this latest development.

"The past four years have changed the South China Sea from one of uncertainty about great powers’ intentions to one of predictability and resulting stability with regard to what can and cannot be done, what will and will not be acceptable with regard to the conduct of any protagonist in the South China Sea," Locsin said.

With the fresh extension, the VFA termination will take effect 69 days after June 1, 2021, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

VFA terminated in February

In February, Locsin seerved the notice of termination to the US Embassy in Manila. The Philippines' withdrawal from the agreement would have been effective 180 days from receipt of notice.

The termination of the VFA was prompted by the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa, although the Palace said that the decision to end the agreement was caused by many factors, including what the government says is US meddling in domestic matters.

The revocation of Dela Rosa's visa is believed to be over his role, when he was Philippine National Police chief, in the government's "war on drugs", and the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima, a vocal government critic who is facing drug charges that she denies and says were politically-motivated.

Duterte had given the US a month to "correct" the revocation of the visa.

Termination suspended in June

The Philippines, however, suspended the termination of the VFA for six months "in light of political and other developments" in the region in June. The initial suspension of the termination would have ended in December.

Following the suspension, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the decision of Duterte on the termination of the VFA was due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The US has been providing assistance, such as equipment for quarantine facilities, to the Philippines in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

"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 told CNN Philippines in June.

During a visit to Manila last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that any armed attack against Filipinos in the South China Sea would trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countrys.

In July, more than a month after the US received the notification from the Philippine government, Pompeo declared Washington's new policy on South China Sea.

Pompeo said the US would consider Beijing's claims to offshore resources in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, as "completely unlawful."

"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," Pompeo said.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 30, 2021 - 10:46am

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

July 30, 2021 - 10:46am

The Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, which President Rodrigo Duterte decided in February 2020 would be scrapped, will no longer be abrogated, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says.

Lorenzana says Duterte decided to revoke the termination of the agreement after a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday night. — Bella Perez-Rubio

June 14, 2021 - 7:40pm

President Rodrigo Duterte extends the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States for another six months, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says.

"The president conveyed to us his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by another six months while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects for the agreement," Locsin says in a video posted on social media.

April 12, 2021 - 3:50pm

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US military open the 36th Balikatan Exercise, which features military simulations made possible by the Visiting Forces Agreement.

The Balikatan comes after the termination of the VFA was suspended for a second six-month period and as tensions with China rise over its ships in the West Philippine Sea.



February 16, 2021 - 10:43am

Sen. Panfilo Lacson reminds President Rodrigo Duterte that under the Constitution, a senator also has something to do with international agreements.

The president earlier told Lacson that he has nothing to do with the issue of the Visiting Forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

"Even an ordinary citizen of this country who feels embarrassed by his harsh, undiplomatic remarks concerning an existing bilateral agreement is guaranteed under the same Constitution to express his views. Not anyone, even he as President can curtail that basic right," Lacson says.

December 9, 2020 - 12:39pm

The US defense department has boostedthe Armed Forces of the Philippines' counter-terrorism capability with new equipment, the US Embassy in Manila says.

The capability upgrade is among the P1.4-billion ($29.3 million) in defense articles recently transferred to the AFP, Acting US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller tells senior Philippine military officials as he met with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. Tuesday in Manila.

In a statement provided by the US Embassy, Miller stresses the importance of the US-Philippine alliance to national and regional security.

Miller says the defense articles that were turned over last December 2 were transferred to several special mission units of the AFP to support its modernization goals.

The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) lauded the capability, especially the anti-Improvised Explosive Device equipment, which will form part of force protection noting that in the recent campaign troops have engaged terrorists rigging IEDs in its attacks.  — The STAR/Roel Pareño

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