The military is hoping that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States will remain in effect despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to abrogate it, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.
“The general feeling in the Armed Forces is for the VFA to continue,” Lorenzana said when asked whether he will push for its resumption during an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.
In February 2020, Duterte scrapped the VFA over alleged inequities in its treaty provisions and the perceived US interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
He later suspended the revocation of the military pact with Washington in June and again in November 2020.
Lorenzana said the US and the Philippines signed the VFA in 1999 to keep their armed forces interoperable to support the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“I don’t think the purpose there was to contain or to face China’s threat in the South China Sea. There was no threat then,” he said.
Lorenzana said this year’s Balikatan joint military exercises with the United States would push through after he spoke on the phone with new US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The exercises were suspended last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A congressional leader on Thursday urged the government to reconsider its decision to terminate the VFA amid warming relations between the Philippines and United States under the Biden administration.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon made the statement after Austin affirmed the United States’ commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty, and the VFA during an introductory call with Lorenzana.
The two defense secretaries discussed the importance of enhancing the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ capabilities and increasing interoperability between the two countries’ militaries through a variety of bilateral security cooperation activities.
The two also discussed regional security challenges, including the West Philippine Sea, counterterrorism, and maritime security, and affirmed the importance of upholding international rules and norms, including the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling that shot down China’s claim that it has historically exercised exclusive control over the waters within its “nine-dash line” boundary.
Biazon said this opportunity for a fresh start may also be the time to recalibrate the two countries’ relations, including the possible tweaking of the VFA.
“It would be an appropriate response to the law passed by China authorizing its Coast Guard to use weapons against Filipinos in disputed waters,” he said.
China’s Coast Guard Law took effect on Feb. 1, authorizing Chinese Coast Guard ships to use lethal force on foreign ships that do not obey orders to leave disputed waters.