(FEBRUARY 12, 2020) – United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday said the Philippines’ intention to scrap an agreement allowing American presence in its former colony was “unfortunate.”
Esper’s comments on the Philippines’ move to officially notify the termination of the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was posted in the Pentagon’s website after his chance interview with journalists while traveling to Europe.
“In my view, it’s unfortunate that they would make this move,” Esper said, referring to Filipino officials..
“I think it’s a move in the wrong direction for, again, for the long-standing relationship we’ve had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries.”
On Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. sent the notice of VFA termination to the US embassy in Manila, ending a two-decade-old treaty allowing thousands of US forces to train and exercise in the Philippines.
Esper said they just got the notification late last night in Washington.
“We have to digest it. We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles,” he said.
“We’ve got to work through it, and we’ll just take a deep breath and take it one day at a time,” he said adding: “I am going to hear from my commanders.”
The US and Philippines are long-time security allies in the region, sharing common interests and values.
US plays an active role as a deterrent to China’s assertive and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, and Taiwan.
“And as we try and, you know, bolster our presence and compete with them in this era of great power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction,” he said referring to China which is their main rival in the region.
Esper was a bit disappointed over the Philippines’ decision because he was in Manila a couple of months ago.
In November, he had “very good meetings” with Philippine officials, including his Filipino counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana, whom he has described as “very interlocutor on these matters.”
During Esper’s visit, he and Lorenzana discussed ways to strengthen the defense cooperation of the two countries.
The two discussed issues of common interest, including the South China Sea and combating terrorism.
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