THE PHILIPPINES won’t end a military pact with the US on the deployment of troops for war games just yet, after it extended the suspension of its termination for six more months, according to its top envoy.
The suspension would allow the Philippine government to “find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said on Twitter, citing President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent a taped statement to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’brien in announcing the decision.
Mr. Duterte in February said he was ending the two-decade visiting forces agreement (VFA) after the US Embassy canceled the visa of Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa, his former police chief who led his deadly war on drugs.
He suspended the termination for six months in June, citing heightened tensions in the region and saying it was a distraction to countries’ anti-coronavirus efforts.
“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,” he said then.
DFA earlier said the termination of the VFA would take effect after 69 days, if the suspension was not extended.
The VFA, which allows the US to shield its servicemen from prosecution in the Philippines, has been a thorny issue for Filipino patriots who see it as a lopsided deal. The US has used the VFA at least twice to keep accused soldiers under its jurisdiction. Mr. Locsin in February said the Philippines received $267.75 million in military financing from the US between 2016 and 2019.
He said the US had also planned to spend about $200 million for the Philippines in the two years through 2021, which probably won’t proceed without the VFA.
Some Philippine lawmakers are concerned that without the VFA, two other pacts that make up the long-standing US alliance with Manila would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.
Ending the VFA complicates Washington’s efforts to maintain an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of US personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.
Washington has called the relationship “ironclad” despite Mr. Duterte’s allegations of US hypocrisy and ill treatment. — Charmaine A. Tadalan