DND backs new 6-month extension of VFA

Published June 15, 2021, 7:27 AM

by Martin Sadongdong

The Department of National Defense (DND) is fully supporting President Duterte’s decision to extend the suspension of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for six more months.

CLOSE ALLIES — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Charge d’Affaires John Law interact during the closing ceremonies of the Balikatan Exercise at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 23, 2021. Balikatan, an annual military exercise between the two countries, was created after the establishment of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). (Photo courtesy of Department of National Defense)

“The DND fully supports the President’s decision to suspend for another six months the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Lorenzana said in a statement on Monday night, June 14. This is the third such extension regarding the pact.

“Our bilateral cooperation with the U.S. is geared towards upholding our national interest and to the extent necessary to enhance the Philippines’ defense capability,” he added.

With the additional six months, Lorenzana said the DND “will further review the pros and cons of the VFA” to help the Commander in Chief “arrive at an informed decision on the matter”.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced the extension of the VFA on Monday, two months before its expiration in August 2021.

The decision came weeks after stakeholders from the Philippines and United States (US) concluded its discussion on the fate of the VFA since it was first ordered terminated by Duterte in February 2020.

The VFA, which was signed in 1998 and ratified the following year, permits joint military trainings between American and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines. It also governs the conduct or behavior of US troops while they are on Philippine soil.

On Feb. 11, 2020, Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA after the US government terminated the travel visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, his key political ally, due to alleged human rights violations when he was still the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.

Dela Rosa served as Duterte’s first police chief after the latter was elected president in 2016. Dela Rosa led the implementation of the administration’s bloody drug war.

However, Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA to be suspended in June 2020 due to an increased tension between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The suspension would last for six months.

He again announced a second six-month suspension in November 2020 after US President Joe Biden won in the elections, paving the way for discussions to “improve” the military pact.