Lorenzana: ‘VFA in full force again’
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has recalled a decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“Last night, after the meeting between Sec. Austin and Mr. President in Malacanang, the President decided to recall or retract the termination of the VFA,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced on Friday (July 30) at a joint press briefing with Austin. “The VFA is in full force again. There is no letter of termination pending and we are back on track.”
Austin, who is on the last stop of his Southeast Asia tour after Singapore and Vietnam, paid a courtesy call on Duterte on Thursday night. He is the first cabinet member of the Biden administration to visit the Philippines and the region.
“On behalf of the US, let me thank President Duterte for his decision to fully restore the Visiting Forces Agreement,” the US official said.
Lorenzana and Austin met at Camp Aguinaldo on Friday to discuss various bilateral issues and other developments in the region, especially in the South China Sea. The U.S. official will also meet Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. before his departure later in the day.
In June, Duterte suspended for a third time the effectivity of a move to abrogate the long-standing agreement, which was supposed to expire in August, for another six months while Duterte studied it and addressed the concerns of both sides.
Duterte first tried to cancel the deal in 2020 after one of his most trusted allies, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, was denied a U.S. visa.
Lorenzana said he did not know why Duterte reversed his decision to junk the agreement, which had been in limbo for several months.
“I don’t really know the reason behind the President’s decision. I’m not privy to his decision-making,” said Lorenzana.
“But one thing is clear, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the ambassador to the United States (Jose Romualdez) have been actually working for this to happen. Maybe the President was just convinced that we could continue with the VFA and he gave the decision last night,” he said.
“There was this termination letter that was submitted by the Philippines to the United States informing that the agreement would be terminated in six months and the President extended it several times,” the Philippine defense chief said.
“That letter has been retracted so it’s as if nothing happened. The VFA will continue,” he said.
The large-scale presence of American troops in the Philippines, as well as other defense agreements, are dependent on the VFA. The US presence in the region has been viewed as a deterrent to China, which aggressively claims almost the entire South China Sea.
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