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VFA junking not end of the world for PH-US relations, says envoy

/ 07:15 PM February 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will continue to find ways to preserve its relationship with the United States, which was more important than the key defense pact between the two countries which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wanted to junk, according to the Philippines’ top diplomat in the US.

“The relationship between the Philippines and US is far more than the VFA and many other things,” said Jose Manuel Romualdez Jr., Manila’s ambassador to Washington, referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which Duterte was thrashing.

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“While it’s an important document that covers our relationship with the US in military-to-military basis, I think that moving forward, we will try to find ways and means to be able to continue that relationship,” Romualdez said at a press briefing in Makati City.

“On the diplomatic front, we will continue to engage with many people and our friends in Washington DC, and see how we will continue to enhance our relationship,” he said.

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The VFA, he said, was more of a military issue, and he would leave it to the defense establishment how to move forward without it.

Duterte last week ordered the sending of the notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy in Manila. It was expected to take effect after 180 days.

The President’s decision to end the VFA last week goes against the advice given by his foreign and security officials to review the agreement instead of junking it.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the decision as a”move in the wrong direction” especially at a time when US and its allies in the region are pushing China to abide by international norms.

The accord has allowed the AFP to conduct joint activities with the US that enhance its capability to counter national security threats. It also allowed American soldiers to aid in disasters and calamities quickly.

The VFA, ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, governs the conduct of visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.

“When the President ordered the termination of the VFA, we took that as to mean that it’s the final decision.. The decision was made by the President, so we will abide by it. We will just find ways to continue our relationship,” Romualdez said.

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He said groups like US-Philippines Society, a private sector initiative, are continuing to expand the understanding of the two countries and to raise awareness about the Philippines in the US.

The group met with the Department of Foreign Affairs this week for a “dynamic” discussion on private sector role in the relationship between the two countries, according to US-Philippines Society president John Maisto.

Romualdez said he believed that the Philippines and US can work around its relationship despite Duterte throwing into garbage a key defense pact with the US.

“Remember, when we had a termination of the Bases Agreement in 1991, there was a different kind of relationship then. There were hardly any exercises during that time,” he said, referring to a proposed treaty with the US that would have extended the stay of US military bases on Philippine soil. The treaty had been rejected by the Philippine Senate.

“Now that the VFA has been terminated, I’m sure there will be something else we’ll be able to work out,” he said.

“I think wherever there’s a change like this, for me it’s always an opportunity to make things better,” said Romualdez.

“For many years, 70 years of diplomatic relations, there were ups and downs,” the ambassador said, and yet the two countries came out “better and stronger.”

Edited by TSB
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TAGS: ambassador, Defense, Jose Manuel Romualdez, junk, pact, VFA, Visiting Forces Agreement, Washington
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