Philippines extends suspension of VFA abrogation for another six months

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 11)— The Philippines will hold off for another six months the abrogation of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States upon President Rodrigo Duterte’s order, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin said Wednesday.

In a statement, Locsin said the move would enable both parties to come up with a “more enhanced” and mutually beneficial arrangement on defense matters.

“My President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has instructed me to convey with the appropriate formality his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by yet another 6 months, to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense,” the country’s top diplomat wrote in a note addressed to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

The VFA was supposed to be scrapped on August 9, but the Philippine government on June 1 suspended its pending termination in light of “political and other developments in the region."

The suspension was given an initial six-month timeline until December, but a diplomatic note earlier shared by Locsin said it could also be extended for another half a year.

Inked in 1998, the VFA is the first of two agreements between Washington and Manila about the treatment of their troops when they are in the US or the Philippines.

​In a statement on Thursday, the US embassy said it is happy to hear about the Duterte government's decision to further postpone its plan to revoke the VFA.

"We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ November 11 decision to suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement for another six months. The US-Philippines alliance remains vital to our robust, deep-rooted bilateral relationship," the embassy said in a statement, adding that Washington will "continue to partner closely with the Philippines to strengthen our mutual security ties."

The two-decade military pact legally allows the entry of a large number of American troops, ships and aircraft for joint training with Filipino soldiers. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for American troops, and specifies which country will have jurisdiction over US servicemen who may be accused of crimes in the Philippines -- a sensitive matter in the former US colony.

The two countries have been long-standing allies, having signed a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951.