(June 2, 2020) – The Philippine government on Tuesday suspended the abrogation of the two decades-old military agreement allowing access to the United States armed forces to train and exercises in the country, the foreign affairs secretary said on Tuesday.
Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a Twitter post said he has issued a diplomatic note to the American ambassador on Monday informing him the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement has been suspended upon instruction of the president.
The Philippines position has changed “in light of political and other developments in the region,” Locsin said without elaborating.
Tension in the South China Sea has been rising between the United States and China after a dangerous maneuver by a Chinese vessel on a US Navy destroyer transiting near Taiwan Straits.
China has increased its aggressive behavior in the disputed waters, ramming and sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in early April while the coronavirus pandemic was raging around the world.
It also created two administrative districts in the South China Sea to cover the Spratly and Scarborough shoal near the main island of Luzon.
“The suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months which period is extendable by the Philippines for another six months, after which the tolling of the initial period in note verbal 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 shall resume,” Locsin said in a note sent to the US embassy.
Prior to the suspension, the VFA was supposed to end by August 11. This means, the new termination date will be six months after one year from today.
Locsin said Washington has also received the information about the suspension.
An angry Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA in early February after the US State Department revoked the visa of a trusted political ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, for his role as national police chief in the brutal and bloody war on drugs policy which has killed close to 6,000 people since 2016.
The popular leader and his officials had denied the decision to revoke the VFA was a knee-jerk reaction to the visa cancellation.
In March, the Senate leadership asked the Supreme Court if it was legal and constitutional for a president to terminate a treaty without the consent of upper chamber of Congress.
Analyts say the abrogation could be linked to rising criticism as Beijing took advantage of the disruption created by the pandemic.
In late April, Manila filed diplomatic protests against Beijing after China named part of the islands which the Philippines is claiming as part of its Hainan province.
The Chinese Navy had also pointed a radar gun at a Navy ship of the Philippines in its own waters.
Many have cautioned that the Philippines’ withdrawal from the VFA could weaken its defense capability, such as counter-terrorism efforts and patrolling in its waters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who heads the Pentagon, had also remarked that such a decision is a “move in the wrong direction.”
America welcomed the Philippine government’s decision to suspend the termination of the agreement.
“Our long-standing alliance has benefitted both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” it said in a statement. (Christian de Lano Deiparine/MM)
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