PH envoy to US: COVID-19, South China Sea ‘developments,’ reasons not to end VFA
MANILA, Philippines — The decision to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the developments in the heavily-contested South China Sea, Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez said Wednesday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. announced Tuesday night over Twitter that he had informed Washington through a diplomatic note about the decision to suspend the abrogation process of the VFA.
The decision not to terminate the decades-old military pact was made “in light of political and other developments in the region,” Locsin said in the note, without elaboration.
Asked in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel about the suspension, Romualdez revealed that he has been discussing it with his counterpart, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, for some time now.
“Obviously the situation as far as the pandemic is concerned is a major concern,” Romualdez said, noting that many Balikatan exercises had to be postponed due to the global health crisis.
“That’s one. So the political reason is there’s quite a number of things that are happening right now in the South China seal, very clearly we see that,” he added.
In February, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA, which governs the conduct of U.S. troops who take part in military exercises in the Philippines, despite facing increasingly hostile Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
Malacañang said Duterte’s order stemmed from Washington’s intrusion into the affairs of the Philippines, referring to the U.S. Senate resolution seeking sanctions against Philippine officials involved in the drug war and the detention of Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch Duterte administration critic who has been detained for drug-related charges.
The Philippines, along with the U.S. and China were heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic which originated in the Chinese province of Hubei.
But despite the global health crisis, Beijing continues to assert its invalidated claims in the contested waterways.
China has been pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea, refusing to recognize the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that invalidated its ambitious nine-dash line feature which claims virtually the entire body of water.
Meanwhile, Duterte has chosen to shelve the PCA ruling in exchange for Chinese economic perks to help fund his administration’s infrastructure projects.
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