US welcomes Philippines’ decision to suspend VFA termination again

The United States welcomed the Philippine government’s decision to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement’s (VFA) termination suspended for another six months to allow for further study and discussion on the military deal. 

The VFA, which had been in limbo for over a year since the Philippines sent notice it would terminate the pact last February 2020, would have expired by August 2021 if no decision had been made to either keep or scrap it. With the latest extension, the deal will remain in force until February 2022. 

“We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ decision to again suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” the US embassy in Manila said in a statement on Tuesday, June 15. 

"Our alliance continues to contribute not only to the security of our two nations, but also strengthens the rules-based order that benefits all nations in the Indo-Pacific," it added.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. had announced on Monday night, June 14, that President Rodrigo Duterte decided to extended the suspension of the VFA again so that he could study the matter and allow both sides to “further address his concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement.”

Duterte’s decision comes weeks after both Manila and Washington concluded negotiations on the VFA. Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez earlier told reporters that talks had “improved” the deal between the two countries and expressed confidence it would pull through. 

It is also the third time for the Philippines to suspend the termination of the VFA. After sending the US a notice of termination on February 11, 2020, Duterte first suspended the termination in June 2020, and then in November, after Joe Biden won the US presidency.

Biden had highlighted importance of the continued strong alliance between the two countries in his message to Filipinos on Philippine Independence Day on June 12.

The VFA, which provides the legal framework for the presence of US troops in the Philippines for war games and joint activities, is seen by diplomats and security officials as an important agreement that is part of the country's national security framework. It is also seen as a deterrent to China’s aggressive claims in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. 

The agreement is an important aspect of ties between the Philippines and the US, the Philippines' oldest and only defense treaty ally. The countries have Mutual Defense Treaty, where both sides commit to come to each other's aid in the event of an attack, including in the South China Sea. 

In the months both countries discussed the VFA, Chinese ships swarmed various parts of the West Philippine Sea, drawing sharp rebuke from the Philippines' defense and foreign secretaries and triggering the filing of daily diplomatic protests.

The international community, including the US, called out China’s “destabilizing actions” that could undermine peace and stability in the volatile waterway. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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