US ‘very pleased’ with Duterte’s move to hold off VFA abrogation: envoy

Washington was “very pleased” with President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to hold off for the third time the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the country’s envoy to the United States said Tuesday.

Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the American military welcomed Duterte’s decision to extend the defense pact, which he described as a “very important” aspect of the relationship between the two countries.

“We were very happy about that,” he said in an interview with presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque. “The US government, especially the US military establishment, is very pleased with this development.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced on 14 June that Duterte had extended the military deal’s suspension to enable him review the “improved” version of the VFA crafted by Philippine and US officials.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Duterte’s move would help him arrive at an “informed decision” on the matter.

Officials from the Philippines and the US began discussions to iron out the two countries’ differences over the VFA last February, a year after Duterte pulled out from the agreement.

The process of the VFA termination, however, has been held off in June 2020 and a second time in November 2020.

“Both countries have sat down to different panels and we’ve had — I won’t really call it negotiations — but clarifications on the terms of agreement, which was completed,” Romualdez said.

The envoy added that the US embassy was hopeful that the modified version of the VFA submitted to the President would be “better than it ever was.”

“I’m one of those who believe it’s important for us because it’s mutually beneficial anyway,” Romualdez said.

“To be honest about it, the VFA, I think, has benefited our military which Secretary Lorenzana has confirmed on several occasions,” he added.

Signed in 1998, the VFA provides the legal framework for the presence of American troops in the Philippines as they conduct military exercises with state forces.

Having the ability to rotate troops is important not only for the defense of the Philippines, but also to the US to counter China’s aggressive and militaristic actions in the region.

Several military deals between Manila and Washington, such as the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, are dependent on the VFA.

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