(Eagle News)–The Philippines has suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
According to a diplomatic note issued to US Ambassador Sung Kim and posted on the Foreign Affairs Secretary’s Twitter account, the suspension of the termination of the agreement, which governs the conduct of US forces who take part in military exercises in the Philippines, was “in light of the political and other developments in the region.”
The VFA, signed in February 1998, also has the primary effect of allowing the US government to retain jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are “of particular importance to the Philippines.”
The Foreign Affairs chief said the suspension of the termination contained in Note Verbale No. 20-0463 dated February 11 was upon President Rodrigo Duterte’s instruction.
“The suspension shall start on even date and shall continue for six months, which period is extendible by the Philippines for another six months, after which the tolling of the initial period in Note Verbale No. 20-0463 dated 11 February 2020 shall resume,” the diplomatic note said.
The Foreign Affairs secretary said the diplomatic note has been received by Washington “and well at that.”
In a short statement, the US Embassy in Manila welcomed the development.
“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation in the Philippines,” the statement said.
President Duterte’s decision to terminate the VFA came after the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s US visa.
The visa cancellation came after a US Senate resolution that called on US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against Philippine officials who were “responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of” Senator Leila De Lima.
De Lima is currently detained as she faces charges filed against her in connection with her alleged involvement in the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa when she was justice secretary.
Apart from the revocation of visas, the US senators called for a freezing of assets, noting also that their call was pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Dela Rosa said he believed the cancellation of his visa also had to do with his role in the Philippines’ drug war, which some in the US have condemned.
The Philippine government had decried the visa cancellation, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana calling it a “direct affront” to President Duterte as the “architect” of the drug war that has the support of many Filipinos.