Manila, June 3 — Manila seeks to continue its strong military partnership with the United States as it suspends the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.
“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with US even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building common defense towards enduring stability and peace, and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part of the world,” he said in a speech.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a diplomatic note dated June 1, informed the US embassy about the suspension of abrogation for half a year. Following notification in February 2020, the accord was originally set for the termination in August.
Defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision, Locsin said the suspension was in line with the developments in the region and the Philippines’ national interest.
“In the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, in a 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,” he said.
He also assured that the action “alarms no country in Asia and the rest of the world” as it even “greatly assures everyone”.
Covid-19, SCS among factors
In a separate interview Wednesday, Philippine Ambassador in Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the coronavirus pandemic and recent developments in the South China Sea.
“Obviously, the situation as far as the pandemic is concerned is a major concern as far as the Visiting Forces Agreement. As a matter of fact, many of the Balikatan exercises had to be moved or cannot be obviously be implemented because of the pandemic so that’s one,” he said in an ANC interview.
“The political reason, obviously, is there’s quite a number of things that are happening right now in the South China Sea, very clearly we see that and so because of security issues and many things that are happening in the world, both I think our governments have seen that it would be prudent for us to just simply suspend first any implementation of the termination,” he added.
Although surrounded with “many issues”, the VFA in itself is a vehicle to implement exercises between Washington and Manila under the context of the Mutual Defense Treaty.
In the long run, Romualdez said the Philippines has to find some form of mechanism to continue with the defense pact.
“The President has always said that he has no intention of abrogating our Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in 1951, that in itself is already an indication that we have to have some mechanism on how we can continue with that defense treaty,” he said.
“The VFA was obviously a vehicle for which we will be able to implement many of these exercises but it has been under review for many years even before President Duterte, there are many issues, of course, that need to be resolved… In the long run we need to have some form of agreement to be able to implement our defense treaty with the US,” he said.