Duterte finds ending VFA untimely in time of COVID-19, says Lorenzana
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte thought it was not timely to end the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday (June 3).
“The reason was, I was told, is because of the current pandemic,” Lorenzana said in an interview with CNN Philippines about the reasons scrapping VFA was suspended.
“We need the cooperation from other countries, we need to cooperate with other countries to fight pandemic,” Lorenzana said.
“I think the President thought it was not timely to end the VFA at this time,” he said.
Suspending the scrapping of VFA, Lorenzana added, had been discussed a month ago.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced on Tuesday (June 2) that the Philippine government, upon orders of Duterte, had sent a notice to the US Embassy in Manila on Monday (June 1) that the termination of VFA was being suspended.
The letter to the US Embassy said the decision was made because of “political and other developments.”
It said the suspension shall start “on even date” and last for six months and be extended for another six months.
The Philippine government, upon instruction of Duterte, sent notice to the US Embassy to terminate the VFA last Feb. 11. It was supposed to take effect in August.
Duterte earlier went ahead with his decision to scrap the VFA and disregarded the advice of his foreign and security officials to review the agreement instead of junking it.
The President’s orders to end the VFA followed reports about the US cancellation of the visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, one of Duterte’s most trusted allies and his first police chief.
The VFA provides mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.
Lorenzana said the suspension of the VFA termination meant scheduled activities of Filipino and American troops will proceed.
In the next few months, Lorenzana said he sees US help in the fight against COVID-19 increasing.
“They already gave us some help, assistance very recently,” he said.
On maritime disputes in South China Sea, Lorenzana said the US will continue patrols in the disputed waters, although he believed that it would have remained that way even without the suspension of the VFA termination.
In a separate statement, Lorenzana said he welcomed the President’s decision to suspend the junking of VFA.
“The Philippine defense establishment is ready to continue working closely with out US counterparts to find solutions to common concerns such as the ongoing pandemic that has greatly affected both our countries,” he said.
He said the DND and AFP will continue to consult the Office of the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces.
Edited by TSB
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