By Martin Sadongdong
The military exercises between the Philippines and United States will be maintained with the temporary stoppage of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that was supposed to take effect on August 11.
This was among the benefits seen by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. in the suspension of the Philippines’ military pact with its long-term ally.
“We will be able to conduct small maneuver exercises, exercises on disaster relief [response], and counter-terrorism,” Esperon said when asked on the effects of the suspension of VFA termination in a press briefing in Quezon City on Monday.
“I don’t want to second guess the President but I’m sure the President always takes [into consideration] the security of the nation and the benefits we can get from the VFA,” he said.
“Let it be, tutal may pakinabang naman tayo dyan eh (Let it be since we are benefitting from it anyway),” he added.
However, Esperon stressed that the President’s decision to suspend the VFA should not mean the government will stop forging an alliance with other nations.
“Hindi ko sinasabi na sa kanila lang tayo makipag-usap, dapat walang ganun (I am not saying that we should talk to US alone, it’s not like that),” he said.
“We have long been allies. You need not forget long-time allies. Then we started gaining more friends. The idea is for us to have more friends and maintain the good relations with our long-time allies,” he added.
On June 3, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Lcosin Jr. announced that the government has suspended the termination of the VFA on the orders of President Duterte.
The notice was formally sent to the US government thru the US embassy on June 1.
Locsin cited the need for a stronger collaboration among partner-countries to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as one of the reasons behind the President’s decision.
Duterte had ordered the termination of the VFA after the US government, keen on a crackdown against human rights violators, cancelled Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s travel visa supposedly due to his role in the bloody anti-illegal drug campaign in the country as a former Philippine National Police chief.
On February 11, the government formally sent the notice of termination of the VFA to the US, which will take effect after 180 days unless a negotiation is reached.
The VFA, signed in 1998 and ratified the following year, allows joint trainings between American and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines and governs the conduct of US troops while they are in our country.
Through the VFA, more than 100 military exercises are being conducted between the Philippines and United States every year.