US ‘hopeful’ VFA to be extended given decades-old Mutual Defense Treaty – envoy

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Washington is counting on its decades-old strong ties with Manila for the extension of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippine envoy to the United States said on Monday.

“Ang relasyon natin dito sa Amerika ay matagal na: 75 years na ang ating diplomatic relations, 70 years na ‘yung ating Mutual Defense Treaty,” Ambassador Jose Manuel “Babe Romualdez said during a Palace briefing.

[Translation: Our relationship with America has been around for a long time: our diplomatic relations have lasted for 75 years, our Mutual Defense Treaty has been going on for 70 years.]

“They are hopeful that President (Rodrigo) Duterte will of course extend the VFA dahil [because] that’s part of the Mutual Defense Treaty, that's part of the whole package,” he pointed out.

Romualdez also said the Department of Foreign Affairs had met with its American counterpart over the past few months to improve the VFA terms of agreement, adding the documents are now on the President's desk.

“’Yung America syempre they would like us to continue with it pero handa naman sila kung di naman mangyari, eh of course they’re going to be disappointed, I’m sure,” he said. “But they would like to see us really continue to have good relations.”

[Translation: Of course America would like us to continue with it but they’re ready in case it won’t happen.]

The envoy added that he “feels this more now,” considering the US has reached out on helping the Philippines in “every way they can.”

Romualdez also revealed during the press briefing that the country is among the first recipients of the tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccines Washington will be distributing worldwide.

US President Joe Biden is set to announce this week that 80 million shots will be made available across the globe, particularly to allied countries and nations in direst need of them, added the diplomat.

When asked whether these promised doses will affect Duterte’s decision on the fate of VFA, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque asked to wait for the shots to arrive first, noting that information such as how many doses are coming in to begin with is still unknown.

“The President has been pondering on the issue and has a bigger framework of analysis," Roque said. "Let’s just await his decision because he’s the only one who can decide on this matter.”

The envoy also shared that Biden has already written to Duterte not only on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of PH-US diplomatic relations, "but to also inform him about how strong the relationship between the United States and the Philippines will continue.”

He also mentioned that the US commander in chief has expressed hope to meet with Duterte “at some point in time.”

While there are no scheduled talks between both presidents yet, Romualdez said the anniversary of the two countries' diplomatic ties could “probably be more or less the trigger for this conversation to happen.”