PH suspends abrogation of VFA for 6 months

The Philippines will hold off for six months the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the treaty which governs the presence of American soldiers conducting military exercises in the country.

The suspension of the end of the military accord was upon President Rodrigo Duterte's instruction and "in light of political and other developments in the region," Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said Tuesday.

READ: Duterte suspends VFA abrogation, US welcomes move

Locsin posted a copy of his note verbale to the US Embassy in Manila on his Twitter account.

"I issued this diplomatic note to the US Ambassador. It has been received by Washington and well at that," Locsin said.

The note, dated June 1, said: "The suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months, which period is extendible by the Philippines for another six months, after which the tolling of the initial period in Note Verbale No. 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 shall resume."

Under the accord, the VFA “shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”

Manila formally sought the VFA's termination on Feb. 11, 2020.

Duterte ordered the abrogation of the VFA, which allows American soldiers to regularly train with their Filipino counterparts in the country, after the US revoked the visa of his close aide and former police chief now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

US officials did not cite a specific reason why Dela Rosa's visa was cancelled, but many speculated it was due to his involvement in Duterte's violent war on drugs.

As late as May 5 this year, Locsin virtually shut the door on the revival of the VFA, saying there are other ways “to give muscle” to the existing Mutual Defense Treaty between the Manila and Washington.

READ: PH not going back to VFA, Locsin asserts

Under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the Philippines and the US commit to come to each other’s aid in case of an armed attack by a foreign aggressor.

“We are never going back to the Visiting Forces Agreement but there are other enduring-predictable not just ad hoc- ways of cooperation to give muscle memory to the Mutual Defense Treaty without which we would be an Oriental slave state,” Locsin said in his Twitter account about a month ago.

According to Locsin, one of the ways is for Washington to provide more armaments to Manila to equip the country’s armed forces.

“Arming us to hold up to our end of the Mutual Defense Treaty is one,” he said.

Last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the pledge to come to the aid of the Philippines amid growing concern over the aggressive activities of China in the West Philippine Sea which includes the construction of military facilities in seven artificial islands, including three inside the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines considers the VFA as a treaty, similar to the MDT, but Washington considers it and subsidiary agreements like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014, as executive agreements.

On the other hand, EDCA allows the US to send troops to the country for extended stays and allows Washington to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, for both US and Filipino forces, but not permanently.

Despite the recommendation of the Cabinet cluster on peace, justice and security to just re-negotiate the VFA, President Duterte has remained adamant on his decision to terminate the agreement. With Rey E. Requejo

Topics: Visiting Forces Agreement , military exercises , Teodoro Locsin , Rodrigo Duterte
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