MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte will pursue terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States despite concerns it would negatively affect the Philippines, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday.
"The President said he is terminating the VFA. I asked for clarification and he said he is not changing his decision," he said in a text message to ABS-CBN News.
Asked about his stand on plans of abrogating the military pact, which governs the conduct of American uniformed personnel while in the country, Lorenzana said: “With [what the President said], what I think becomes irrelevant.”
During Thursday's Senate inquiry that sought to review the benefits of the VFA, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines may lose billions-worth of assistance and even its good relations with regional neighbors should it scrap the accord.
"While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the Agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits were it to be terminated," he said.
Locsin also revealed the billions-worth of military and humanitarian aid the Philippines has received from the United States.
“The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will communicate its recommendation to the President following yesterday’s hearing,” said Lorenzana, without disclosing matters discussed behind closed doors.
The defense chief, however, said that ultimately, the decision rests on the President, and Duterte had already decided.
“The pros and cons were laid out and it is clear that we also benefit in terms of grants (mil equipment, training, HADR) from the VFA. But the President, as the ultimate authority on foreign relations, has decided. And whatever he decides on this matter has my unqualified support.”
With the effectivity of the VFA termination occurring still 180 days from notification, Lorenzana said the upcoming Balikatan exercises this April are pushing through.
Balikatan is the largest Philippine-US military joint exercises involving thousands of operating troops and an extensive array of assets from both sides. - Report from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News