Austin is first Biden cabinet member to meet with Pres. Duterte
(Eagle News) — President Rodrigo Duterte decided to continue the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States government, recalling his earlier decision to terminate or abrogate the VFA.
Delfin Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that President Duterte decided to continue the VFA after his meeting on Thursday, July 29, with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Because of this, he said that the “VFA is in full force again.”
“The President decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA, so the VFA is in full force again, there is no termination letter. We are back on track, Mr. Secretary to plan for future exercises under the VFA, thank you,” Lorenzana said in a press briefing with US Defense Secretary Austin on Friday, July 30.
The US defense chief’s official visit in Manila from July 29 to 30 coincided with the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of the US and the Philippines and the 70th Anniversary of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty this year.
Austin’s meeting with the President is a first for a Cabinet member of the Biden administration.
-VFA side agreement being worked out, says Lorenzana-
Lorenzana noted there was nothing to restore in the VFA as the original documents were still there.
The Philippines submitted the letter of termination on the VFA with the US in February last year.
“What happened was there was this termination letter that was submitted by the Philippines to the United States informing the (United) States that this treaty, agreement will (be) terminated in six months which the president extended several times but later has been retracted,” the Philippines defense chief explained.
“The VFA will continue, now regards to custody of people, I think that’s one of the side agreements that had been in work by both sides and it will not affect the original document,” he added.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque also confirmed President Duterte’s decision to continue the VFA.
“PRRD’s (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on upholding PH strategic core interests, the clear definition of PH-US alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty),” Roque said in a statement.
Roque was referring to the 1951 MDT that aims to step up the defense and security cooperation between the US and Philippine troops.
-Renewed commitment for strengthened PHL-US relations-
On Thursday, the Philippines and the United States made a renewed commitment to strengthen their partnership in various areas of mutual interest following a meeting between Duterte and Austin in Malacañang on Thursday.
Malacanang, in a statement, said President Duterte and Secretary Austin had “an open and frank discussion” on the status and future direction of Philippines-US engagement during a 75-minute courtesy call of the US defense secretary on the President.
“They agreed that the alliance can be further strengthened through enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in the areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including the war on illegal drugs, maritime domain awareness, the rule of law, and trade and investments,” the statement said.
The President expressed his gratitude to the US government for its assistance in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX vaccine sharing program, where the US is the largest contributor.
The Philippines has so far received more than 3 million vaccine doses under World Health Organization-led facility.
Secretary Austin, for his part, expressed his great respect for the Filipino people, underscoring America’s intention of forging a strong relationship with the Philippines as an equal sovereign partner.
During the meeting, Austin relayed US President Joe Biden’s greetings to the Filipino leader, with the President also conveying his well wishes for his US counterpart.
Duterte and Austin agreed that “enhanced communication and greater cooperation” can further boost Manila and Washington’s alliance, the Palace said.
The VFA was supposed to be officially scrapped in August last year, but its termination was suspended for three six-month periods.
The latest was in June this year when Duterte decided anew to extend the VFA’s validity for six more months.
Lorenzana said the Philippines would continue to hold negotiations with the US to revisit the VFA.
The VFA, a 1998 defense deal between Manila and Washington, allows American forces to enter the Philippines without passport and visa to allow them to participate in joint military drills in the host country.
Lorenzana said the Philippines and the US are now holding talks to come up with a “side agreement” that will serve as an addendum to the VFA.
Before his visit to the Philippines, Austin made stops in Singapore and Vietnam in a tour aimed at bolstering ties with Southeast Asian nations.
(Eagle News Service)