MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Wednesday underscored the importance of the country's Visiting Forces Agreement with longtime ally United States, as President Rodrigo Duterte deferred anew the abrogation of the troop deal for another 6 months.
"The VFA is a cornerstone of our alliance with the United States that has benefitted both our countries' armed forces," AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.
The 2-decade-old military agreement provides opportunities for joint and interoperability trainings of both armed forces, he noted.
Against "evolving security threats," Sobejana said the AFP would "continue to enhance its capabilities through purposeful engagements with our treaty ally."
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the chief executive decided to suspend again the termination of the VFA.
"The President conveyed to us his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by another 6 months while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement," he said.
Sobejana said the military "will adhere to the guidance of the President and our Commander in Chief as regards the VFA."
In February 2020, Duterte unilaterally canceled the VFA, in an angry response to the cancellation of his ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa.
The withdrawal period has been extended to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed on, against a backdrop of continuing Chinese incursions in Philippine waters in the South China Sea.
The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.
Experts have said the military agreement, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, could not be implemented.
Under the MDT, signed in 1951, the United States will come to the assistance of the Philippines in case of an armed attack in its metropolitan territory and in the Pacific area.
In 2014, the Philippines and US also forged an executive pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, that allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country.
Duterte had forged friendlier relations with China and Russia, countries the US is known to have issues with, as he also distanced from his country's only treaty ally.