VFA looms large in meeting between top US, PH military execs
MANILA, Philippines—American regional military commanders recently met with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana as the future of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) continues to hang in the balance.
Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom) Admiral John Aquilino met with Sobejana online last June 10 to reaffirm his command’s commitment to the US-Philippine alliance, the US Indopacom said in a tweet.
The meeting was also meant to “advance bilateral defense cooperation.” The Indopacom is in charge of promoting American interests in the Pacific and Asia.
On June 11, US 7th Fleet commander Admiral William Merz personally visited Sobejana at Camp Aguinaldo. The 7th Fleet is the US Navy’s forward-deployed fleet based in Japan.
Adm. John Aquilino met virtually with General Cirilito Sobejana, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to reaffirm our commitment to the U.S. – Philippines #Alliance and to advance bilateral defense cooperation. #FriendsPartnersAllies @TeamAFP pic.twitter.com/f4MvlGUeEf
— U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (@INDOPACOM) June 10, 2021
The two leaders discussed the “robust partnership” of the Philippine and US military, the AFP said in a statement.
Sobejana also thanked the US for providing assistance to the Philippines’ vaccination program. The Philippines has received more than 5 million vaccine doses through Covax, a World Health Organization facility where the US is the largest contributor.
On the same day, Merz also visited the Philippine Navy to meet newly-installed Flag Officer in Command Rear Admiral Adeluis Bordado.
Both leaders “reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen cooperation and collaboration to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity” in the region “as new maritime threats emerge,” the Philippine Navy said in a separate news release.
“The long-standing partnership between the Philippine and US Navy was also the highlight of the discussions,” it said.
US 7th Fleet commander reaffirms commitment with PH Navy in headquarters visit
— Philippine Navy (@Philippine_Navy) June 11, 2021
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday decided to extend the VFA for another six months, after he terminated it in 2020. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the President has agreed to further discuss and study the agreement.
The VFA lists guidelines for visiting American troops in the Philippines for war games. Some revisions have been made on the terms of agreement but Duterte has yet to decide.
The US, the Philippines’ longest treaty ally, earlier warned China against its continued aggression in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, and said any attack on the Philippines would trigger the operation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States and Philippines.
The two countries are bound to defend each other in the event of an armed attack by a hostile party under the treaty. One of the operating mechanisms for the treaty is the VFA, which covers the conduct of US troops inside the Philippines.
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