Lorenzana: We want Visiting Forces Agreement to continue
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine defense and military establishment are largely supportive of the continuation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.
The agreement is currently in limbo after President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally abrogated it last year, but later put the termination on hold.
“The final decision to push through with the termination or withdraw the notice rests on the President. However, we at the defense department and the armed forces, the general feeling in the armed forces is for the VFA to continue,” Lorenzana said in an interview with ABS CBN News Channel.
The VFA is an accord that provides the legal framework under which American troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.
It allows the two countries to accomplish their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), which mandates the two allies to support each other in case of an armed attack.
Duterte notified Washington in February last year that he was throwing out the pact after the revocation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, his close political ally and former police chief.
The Philippines and the US are expected to meet this month to discuss the VFA and work on a long-term and stable arrangement.
Lorenzana said that with the VFA, the two countries can “keep on developing joint doctrines and interoperability in support of the MDT.”
“Our men are also able to see some of the new equipment and familiarize. In the process, the military decides on the basis of their experience with the new equipment if they will buy or not,” he said.
Lorenzana spoke with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, where they discussed various security issues.
Austin reiterated a previous commitment by the US to help the Philippines defend its sovereignty in the South China Sea amid continuing aggression by China.
“It was a getting to-know-you-call. But we also talked about important matters. We discussed the VFA and West Philippine Sea issues,” Lorenzana said of the phone call.
The Philippine defense chief said he told Austin that he hoped that the Philippine-US Balikatan exercises, the biggest joint annual military exercises of the two countries, would resume this summer.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted the cancellation of last year’s scheduled bilateral drills.
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