US Embassy welcomes extended suspension of VFA termination

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 12 2020 10:20 AM

Soldiers take photos as a US Marine Aircraft Ospreys takes off at Cagayancillo, Palawan, where US and Filipino troops are scheduled to conduct a Community Health Education and training as part of the 2016 Balikatan Exercise in the area on Sunday. Dante Diosina, Jr., ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - The Embassy of the United States in Manila welcomed Thursday the Philippine government's decision to postpone anew the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for another six months.

"The U.S.-Philippines alliance remains vital to our robust, deep-rooted bilateral relationship. The United States will continue to partner closely with the Philippines to strengthen our mutual security ties," the embassy said in a statement.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. earlier said in a message to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien that President Duterte is extending the suspension of the abrogation of the VFA by yet another 6 months.

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 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.