By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
The talks about maintaining for now the Philippines’ military pact with the United States first surfaced about two weeks ago, Malacañang revealed on Wednesday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. announced on Twitter that the Philippine government, upon the instruction of President Duterte, has suspended the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US “in light of political and other developments in the region.”
In an interview over ANC, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Roque said that while he was not privy to the details leading to the decision, he revealed that he first caught wind of it last month.
“It was not publicly brought up. I learned about it two weeks ago but it did not come from the mouth of the President himself so I need to talk to him about it,” he said Wednesday morning.
“Not within the day. I’ll be speaking with the President tomorrow,” he added.
The Palace official said he will defer to Locsin as to the details of the suspension of the termination of the VFA but assured the public that he will raise the topic during his meeting with President Duterte on Thursday.
“I will defer to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Although having said that, I will meet with the President tomorrow and that is one of the topics I will bring up with him,” he said.
Roque said the “political and other developments in the region” that the President cited in deciding to reverse his order to abrogate the VFA with the US was not prior to the announcement.
“No. But according to Secretary Locsin himself, the wordings of the communique sent to the US State Department–the wordings are self-explanatory and he is the only one who will expound on it,” he said.
President Duterte abrogated the VFA after the cancellation of the US visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, one of his closest allies, in February this year.
According to the President, he cannot stand US lawmakers portraying the Philippines as a country incapable of administering simple justice.
Malacañang had explained that the decision to scrap the VFA was the result of the series of “disrespectful acts” by some US senators, including the passage of controversial budget law which bans the entry of Filipino officials supposedly behind the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima.
On Tuesday, Locsin posted on his Twitter account a diplomatic note dated June 1, 2020 to the US Embassy in Manila informing it of the suspension of the VFA termination.
“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,” Locsin wrote in his tweet.
Based on the diplomatic note, the suspension “shall start on even date and shall continue for six months” which can be extended by the Philippine government 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 United States welcomed the decision of the Philippine government, noting the longstanding alliance that has benefited both countries.
“We look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.