VFA termination deferral by Duterte elates US, says PH diplomat

Published June 22, 2021, 3:13 PM

by Roy Mabasa

American officials who engaged their Filipino counterparts in the negotiation on the retention of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) are “very happy” with the six-month extension given by President Duterte, Philippine Ambassador to Washington, D.C. Jose Manuel Romualdez said Tuesday.

Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez (2nd from left) watching the video message of US President Joe Biden during the 123rd celebration of Philippine Independence and the 75th anniversary of the US-Philippines bilateral relations at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. last week. (PE-Washington, D.C.)

Romualdez confirmed this when asked during the Malacañang press briefing on whether United States officials were satisfied with the recent decision of President Duterte to extend the VFA termination to another six months.

Of course they’re very happy about that as you know both countries have sat down, two different panels. I wouldn’t really call that negotiation but clarification of the terms of agreement which was completed,” the Philippine envoy said.

He cited the importance of the VFA to the overall relationship between the Philippines and the United States as the two countries celebrate the 75 years of the establishment of their diplomatic ties this year.

Last June 14, President Duterte extended the VFA termination by another six months to give him time to “study” the provisions of the agreement that provide mechanisms for the entry and temporary stay of US servicemen in the country.

“Sabi ni president gusto niya pag aralan yun (The President said he wants to study it). Aside from the fact that of course, our relationship with the United States is a very important one. The VFA is one of the many aspects of our relationship outside of the economic and special relationship in terms of how many years we’ve had,” he said.

Romualdez said he is in agreement with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that the VFA is “beneficial” especially to the Philippine military.

“And first, I’m one of those who believe that it’s really important for us because it’s mutually beneficial anyway. To be honest about it, the VFA has benefitted our military of which Sec. Lorenzana has confirmed on several occasions. We are hoping this will continue and of course, the US government, especially the US military establishment is pleased with this development and the president has extended it for another six months,” he added.

In February last year, President Duterte, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, notified the US government of his decision to terminate the VFA in apparent retaliation to the cancellation of the US visa of his close ally, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

Dela Rosa was Duterte’s PNP chief when the spate of killings related to the administration’s bloody war on drugs campaign reached its peak and earned strong criticisms from several American lawmakers.