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Locsin: Duterte extended suspension of abrogation of Philippines' VFA with US

President Rodrigo Duterte has extended for another six months the suspension of the abrogation of the country's Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Monday.

Locsin said Duterte decided to suspend the termination of crucial security pact instead of renewing it so that both sides could study and address his "concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement."

"We are waiting for guidance from the Palace on the specific areas the President would like to look more closely into," the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Duterte's decision was conveyed to Locsin and Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez in a meeting.

Romualdez earlier said Duterte was supposed to decide on the fate of the VFA, which allows US forces to train with Filipino counterparts in the country, following weeks of negotiations between the Philippines and the US.

But in a televised briefing last week, Duterte said the US should explain why it did not pressure China to leave Scarborough Shoal during a standoff with the Philippines in 2012 before he makes a decision on whether or not to renew the VFA.

The Philippines lost control over the Scarborough Shoal after China reneged on a United States-brokered agreement for both Manila and Beijing to simultaneously withdraw its vessels from the area to end a standoff in 2012.

The shoal - a U-shaped rocky outcrop rich in marine resources seized by Beijing from Manila in 2012 following a two-month standoff - is 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan and lies 124 nautical miles off the nearest Philippine landmass of Palawan.

China's action triggered an international arbitration complaint by the Philippines eight years ago. The tribinal ruled in favor of the Philippines and declared China's massive and historic claim on the South China Sea as baseless under international law. China refused to recognize the ruling.

In a most serious threat to Manila's 69-year-old alliance with Washington, Duterte last year ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US, a long-time Philippine defense and treaty ally, revoked the visa of his close aide and former police chief now senator, Ronald Dela Rosa.

US officials did not cite a specific reason why Dela Rosa's visa was cancelled, but many speculated it was due to his involvement in Duterte's violent war on drugs.

Manila sent an official letter of termination of the VFA to the US on Feb. 11, 2020.

Then in November 2020, Duterte suspended the abrogation of the agreement amid lingering tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte, a vocal critic of the US, has cultivated closer ties with China and Russia while often criticizing US policies and lambasting American criticisms of his administration’s anti-drugs crackdown.

The VFA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the US and the Philippines as security partners after World War II. It is a framework agreement that covers the treatment and presence of American forces in the country with or without war games. —NB, GMA News