The United States welcomed on Thursday the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement 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 US Embassy said in a statement.
This followed Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr’s announcement that President Rodrigo Duterte had decided to extend for another six months the termination of the VFA.
The Visiting Forces Agreement governs visiting American troops temporarily in the country. The agreement, which came into force in 1999, upon ratification by the Philippine Senate, allows US soldiers to regularly train with their Filipino counterparts in the country.
In February, Duterte ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US revoked the visa of his close aide and former police chief, now senator Ronald Dela Rosa.
No specific reason was cited by the US on Dela Rosa’s visa cancellation, but many speculated it was due to his involvement in Duterte’s deadly war on drugs, which killed at least 6,000.
The Philippines first suspended the VFA’s termination process on June 1, citing “political and other developments in the region.”
Locsin Jr. stressed that Duterte’s decision to extend the suspension of the PH-US VFA would allow both sides “to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”
“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. Clarity and strength have never posed a risk. It is confusion and indecision that aggravate risk,” Locsin said in a statement addressed to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
“A great deal of credit for the renewal of stability and security goes 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 in the same period,” Locsin added.
The VFA became effective on May 27, 1999, eight years after the closure of US military bases in the Philippines in 1991.
The military accord was negotiated and signed during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos and ratified during the administration of President Joseph Estrada.
The Philippines notified the US of the official termination of the VFA to the US on Feb. 11, 2020. Nearly three months later, the Department of Foreign Affairs on June 1 sent a diplomatic note to the US Embassy in Manila informing them of Duterte’s decision to put the termination on hold, citing “political and other developments in the region.”