Defense cooperation talks between PH, US envoys part of diplomacy – Palace

By Genalyn Kabiling 

The government is not inclined to stop the country’s ambassador to the United States from holding “exploratory talks” with his counterpart on defense cooperation issues, Malacañang declared Monday.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo recognized that the reported talks between the two ambassadors are part of “diplomacy” even as President Duterte remained firm in his termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN) Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo

“I don’t think you can stop the ambassador from entertaining initiatives coming from his counterpart. Anyway, all those are exploratory talks and assuming that they are because he denied that,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.

“You cannot stop that ambassador from entertaining talks or initiatives coming from his counterpart and that’s diplomacy,” he added.

The Palace had earlier said the President has not given his blessings to any talks for another agreement that will replace the VFA with the United States.

The statement was made after Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez reportedly claimed he and United States Ambassador Sung Kim were in talks to study an agreement that could replace the VFA and address issues about sovereignty.

According to Panelo, the President has not changed his mind about terminating the VFA, which governs the conduct of visiting American troops in the country. “The President’s position remains unchanged,” he added.

He also noted that the country's military deals with Australia and Japan will also remain in effect for now.

“The present agreement with Australia and even with Japan will remain until such time as they, like the US, committed acts that are deemed to be an assault on our sovereignty,” he said.