MANILA, Philippines – Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on Wednesday, June 3, said the decision to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and heightened tensions in the region.
Locsin had pointed to these two factors among the reasons why President Rodrigo Duterte backtracked on an earlier decision to suspend military deal last February 11.
“In the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, the time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” Locsin told reporters at a Department of Foreign Affairs press conference on Wednesday morning.
Just the night before on June 2, Locsin announced President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered him to send notice to the US embassy that the country was pressing pause on its decision to withdraw from the VFA.
The Philippines’ latest move extends the VFA for 6 more months, and is renewable for another 6 months after.
After earlier sending a notice of termination in February, the VFA would have expired in August, or 180 days after the Philippines informed the US of its withdrawal from the deal.
Locsin said the Philippines’ decision had been welcomed by other countries in the region and the world.
“Let me assure you that this action alarms no countries in Asia and the rest of the world. On the contrary it greatly reassures everyone,” he said.
What now? With the extension of the VFA – which provides legal cover for the presence of US troops in Philippine territory – Locsin said the Philippines would continue to its “strong military partnership” with the US.
“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with the United States even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building a common defense towards enduring stability and peace and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part in the world,” he said.
In a speech before the Senate last February, Locsin pointed out the VFA has served as a deterrent to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea; facilitated assistance in huge disasters; helped the Philippine military modernize and combat terror; and promoted economic ties not only with the US but its allies.
During the coronavirus pandemic alone, the US government has also so far donated P780 million (nearly $15.5 million) in assistance to the Philippines to boost the country’s testing capacity, strengthen health care, and provide support for businesses and health workers. – Rappler.com