MANILA — The Philippine government is postponing anew the termination of its military pact with the United States, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Wednesday, in the wake of the election of Joe Biden to the White House.
"[President Rodrigo Duterte] has instructed me to convey with the appropriate formality his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by yet another 6 months," DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said in a message addressed to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
The termination of the pact was initially made on Feb. 11 this year after the US visa of Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Duterte's first national police chief and the first to implement the government's controversial war on drugs, was cancelled. The abrogation was supposed to take effect 180 days after Washington received Manila's notice.
But the termination was suspended in June because, according to Locsin then, Duterte "saw that the tensions in the South China Sea were getting in the way of a united response to the COVID-19 crisis."
The VFA, which is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty of Washington and Manila, governs the conduct of American troops in the Philippines while participating in joint military drills.
Locsin said the new 6-month suspension would "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."
Locsin noted that Duterte appreciated the "renewal of stability and security" in the South China Sea thanks to "deft diplomacy, unequivocal expressions of policy, sturdy postures of strength combined with unfailing tact, and pragmatic national security advice exhibited by both our governments" during the last four years.
"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," he said.
"Clarity and strength have never posed a risk. It is confusion and indecision that aggravate risk."
Duterte's decision to extend the suspension of the VFA abrogation also came days after Democrat candidate Biden won the US presidency over Donald Trump.
The VFA, which took effect in 1999 a year after it was signed, is key to the US-Philippines' broader decades-old military alliance, and underpins hundreds of joint military activities per year as well as speedy disaster aid and ongoing anti-terror efforts.
The Philippine military receives significant American training and equipment, obtaining $554.55 million in US security assistance from 2016-2019.
— Reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News