Philippine military says it benefits from VFA with US, but will respect Duterte's decision

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 05 2020 05:22 PM

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MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Thursday it benefits from the country's Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, the abrogation of which was initially ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte early this year but later suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis and other developments in the region.

"From the perspective of AFP, the Visiting Forces Agreement translates to joint and interoperability training opportunities to benefit both the Philippines and the United States of America," said AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo.

But Arevalo, who is also the commander of the AFP Education, Training, and Doctrine Command, refused to comment if the military favors delaying the abrogation.

He said the military will follow the decision of Duterte.

"We will await the final decision of the President with regard to the VFA. But from our perspective, we see the VFA to be interoperability and training opportunities that would benefit not only the the Philippine armed forces but the United States armed forces as well," said Arevalo.

The Department of Foreign Affairs notified the US last February about the termination of the 1998 agreement which provides legal cover to military exercises between US and Philippine troops.

It was the government's reaction after the US cancelled the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former national police chief who first led the Duterte administration's war on drugs.

The termination of the VFA was supposed to take effect in August, 180 days after the notice was served.

But in June, the Philippines informed the US that it was suspending the abrogation due to the pandemic.

In a diplomatic note, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said the suspension of the abrogation will be in effect for six months, extendible by Duterte for another six months, “after which the tolling of the initial period” contained in the February note verbale will resume.

On Wednesday, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government will likely request another 6-month delay in the VFA abrogation. 

“That (suspension) has an option of being further extended by another six months. So, my thinking is, perhaps the President will invoke the second six-month time to finally abrogate the VFA,” Roque said.

When asked if he favors the delay of the abrogation, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: "On the VFA, I know nothing of PRRD’s instructions."

"Ask Harry. He may know things I don’t," he added.

The VFA, which governs the conduct of American troops in the Philippines during military exercises, is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty of Manila and Washington.