The US has reaffirmed its commitment to its alliance with the Philippines through the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Agreement Regarding the Treatment of US Armed Forces Visiting the Philippines or the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Department of National Defense said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the DND said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III expressed the commitment in a phone call with DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday.
According to the DND, Austin and Lorenzana held an introductory phone call to discuss developments on Philippines-US bilateral defense relations.
“The Secretaries covered the security situation in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea (WPS/SCS), particularly on the capability upgrades of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP),” the DND said.
“Both sides committed to sustain dialogues amidst the pandemic and strengthen cooperation between the two defense establishments. They agreed to meet face-to-face in the future,” it added.
In June 2020, the Philippines informed the US that it was suspending for six months the termination of the VFA after the US revoked the visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.
In November 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte extended for another six months the suspension of abrogation of the VFA amid lingering tensions in the South China Sea, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said. US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien then suggested extending the suspension of abrogation by another year, and the Palace said Duterte has taken note of this.
In December 2020, however, Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA should the US fail to immediately provide a minimum of 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The MDT was signed by the Philippines and the US in 1951 wherein the parties agreed that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either the Philippines or the US would be dangerous and that they would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.
The VFA, on the other hand, took effect in 1999 after being ratified by the Philippine Senate. It allows US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in disaster response and its fight against terrorists. However under the VFA, US forces are not allowed to take part in combat operations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed last month the Biden administration's commitment to defend the Philippines against any armed attack in the South China Sea amid Beijing's new law authorizing its coast guard to shoot foreign vessels in the disputed waters it claims nearly in its entirety.
Blinken made this pledge in a call to Locsin, a day after he was sworn in as America's top diplomat.
"Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty for the security of both nations, and its clear application to armed attacks against the Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the Pacific, which includes the South China Sea," according to a statement released by the US State Department. —KG, GMA News