PH suspends termination of Visiting Forces Agreement with US — DFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 2) – The country's top diplomat announced on Tuesday that the government suspended the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US "in light of the political and other developments in the region."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. made the announcement on social media Tuesday night, saying that President Rodrigo Duterte has directed the Department of Foreign Affairs to inform the U.S. Embassy in Manila of the government's decision on the suspension of the VFA termination.

In his post on Twitter, Locsin said, "I issued this diplomatic note to the US ambassador. It has been received by Washington and well at that. The Note is self-explanatory and does not require comment except from me. The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement has been suspended upon the President’s instruction."

The note said, "In light of the political and other developments in the region, the termination of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of the United States Regarding the Treatment of the United States Visiting Forces Visiting the hereby suspended."

It added the suspension shall start "on even date," and will go on for six months and could extend for another half a year.

"After which, the tolling of the initial period in Note Verbale No. 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 shall resume," it said.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country. Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.

President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to scrap the VFA in January 2020 after the US cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's tourist visa to that country.

Dela Rosa said the revocation of his visa may have something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.

Malacañang said US senators' repeated calls for the release of Senator Leila De Lima – an opposition lawmaker detained on drug charges since 2017 – was also among the reasons for Duterte's move to end the VFA.

However, Malacañang has repeatedly denied that there are state-sanctioned killings, and stressed that the De Lima's drug cases are now being tried by the country's independent courts.

The VFA was ended in February.

READ: Trump shrugs off PH decision to end military pact: We save money

The United States Embassy in Manila welcomed the Philippine’s government's decision to suspend the abrogation of the VFA.

“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a public policy think-tank labeled as a ‘flip-flop’ the decision of Manila to suspend the termination of the VFA.

“Ahead of the 180-day deadline for the final termination of the VFA, the President unfortunately flip-flops from his patriotic decision to end this unequal treaty and instead of continuing to pivot towards a truly independent foreign policy. Terminating the VFA could have had the same weight in history as the 1991 Senate vote expelling the US bases in the country,” said Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch PH.

Ridon also urged the President not to be swayed by military equipment offers from the US and they have more to lose in the termination of the agreement.

“Without the Philippines, its strategy is weakened. We should not allow them to buy their security strategy with military equipment alone,” he added.