'As if nothing happened': Duterte nixes termination of PH-US VFA, says Lorenzana

Published July 30, 2021, 11:58 AM

by Martin Sadongdong

President Duterte has ordered the complete retraction of the planned revocation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States (US), Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed Friday, July 30.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III (walking, right) is given an arrival honors at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on July 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Department of National Defense)

Lorenzana said Duterte made the decision after his meeting in Malacanang on Thursday with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, who is currently visiting the country as part of his Southeast Asian tour to strengthen Washington’s defense ties with its allies. Prior to this, Austin had gone to Singapore and Vietnam to meet with his counterparts.

“Last night, after the meeting of Secretary Austin and Mr. President in Malacañang, the President decided to recall or retract the termination [of] the VFA,” Lorenzana said in a joint press briefing with the Pentagon Chief at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Enacted in 1999, the VFA was put in peril after Duterte announced on Feb. 11, 2020 that he was terminating the pact allegedly after the US cancelled the travel visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a close administration ally.

Dela Rosa led the President’s bloody anti-illegal drug war–which critics and human rights watch groups claimed was responsible for numerous extrajudicial killings (EJKs)–as the national police chief in 2016.

However, in June 2020, the government decided to suspend the termination of the military pact for six months due to an increased tension between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Two more six-month suspensions were announced by the government in November 2020 and June 2021 to “revise” the 22-year-old pact.

“There was a termination letter that was submitted by the Philippines to the Unitd States. That letter has been retracted, as if nothing happened,” Lorenzana bared.

“I don’t know the reason behind the President’s decision. The DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] has been working for this to happen. Maybe the President was just convinced so he decided to continue with the VFA,” he added.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (middle) introduces US Defense Secretary Austin Lloyd III (left) to Gen. Cirilito Sobejana (right), Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), during his visit at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on July 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Department of National Defense)

The VFA governs the conduct or behavior of American soldiers in the Philippines. It also allows joint military trainings between Filipino and American soldiers in the Philippines.

Austin expressed gratitude to Duterte for restoring the military pact.

“On behalf of the United States, let me thank President Duterte for his decision to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

With the official retraction of the termination of the VFA, Lorenzana said representatives from the two countries will hold bilateral meetings to make some adjustments on the military pact.

“I want to revisit it and make it relevant to our current situation,” he said.

Although the Defense Chief did not elaborate what adjustments he was referring to, he said in a previous press briefing that there will be a “side agreement” that will serve as an addendum to the VFA.

“The VFA will not be changed. There is a side agreement to implement the provisions of the VFA and once it is signed by the President, it will be an official document attached to the VFA,” he said last July 21.