PH, France eye VFA, deeper defense ties
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and France are taking steps toward deeper defense cooperation, including the possible establishment of a visiting forces agreement (VFA) that will allow their military forces to conduct exercises in each other’s territory.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. and his visiting counterpart, French Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu, signed a letter of intent on Saturday setting both governments in such a direction during a meeting in Taguig City.
“We intend to take concrete steps into leveling up and making more comprehensive our defense cooperation. Principally by working to get authorization from our respective heads of state and relevant agencies to begin negotiations for a status of visiting forces agreement,” Teodoro said at a press conference.
First 2 agreements
The Philippines currently has two active VFAs: one with the United States which was ratified by the Senate in 1999 and with Australia which was signed in 2007 but was ratified and took effect only in 2012.
The VFA governs the conduct of foreign soldiers on Philippine soil while they undergo joint military training with Filipino troops.
The Philippines is also expected shortly to complete a reciprocal access agreement with Japan, which will establish procedures for the cooperative activities conducted by the defense force of one country while visiting the other.
Teodoro said he could not yet give a definite timeline on the possible VFA with France, leaving any future negotiations to the decision of President Marcos and French President Emmanuel Macron.
“In our experience with Japan, it happened very rapidly. So we hope the same thing happens here [with France],” he added.
Both Lecornu and Teodoro underscored how having a VFA could raise the level of compatibility in terms of operations between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the French Armed Forces.
“Without need of any agreement, we have also agreed to sustain, if not further, the visits and cooperation between the French Navy and the Philippine Navy,” Teodoro noted.
He and Lecornu also discussed current regional security issues in the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Europe, while underscoring the rules-based international order and calling for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
“We also underscored the importance of international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to our maritime operations. That both countries have fealty and obey generally accepted principles of international law,” Teodoro said.
They also agreed to “make a more robust and more concrete our steps” on defense technology and industries, disaster risk reduction and resilience, and intelligence exchange.
A French company, Naval Group, is vying to be the AFP’s supplier of Scorpene-class submarines in an unprecedented upgrade of the country’s naval forces. South Korea’s Hanwha Ocean and Spain’s Navantia have also offered to build submarines as part of the AFP modernization program.
France is considered an Indo-Pacific power with over 7,000 troops stationed in overseas territories in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.