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Palace won’t stop Romualdez from discussing defense matters with US

Malacañang said Monday it would not prevent Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez from discussing defense matters with his American counterpart.

Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the statement even as he affirmed that President Rodrigo Duterte’s position on the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) remained unchanged.

“You cannot stop the ambassador from entertaining talks or initiatives coming from his counterpart. That’s diplomacy,” Panelo said at a news conference when asked if Malacañang will order Romualdez to refrain from discussing with the US side the possibility of entering into a new defense deal to replace the VFA.

“Those are exploratory talks and assuming that they are [talking], because he denied that, the President’s position remains unchanged.”

Earlier, Romualdez  said he and US Ambassador Sung Kim were trying to find ways to craft another deal similar to the VFA, which governs the conduct of visiting US personnel holding military exercises in the Philippines.

Duterte had sought the termination of the VFA after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald dela Rosa, his close ally, reportedly over the former national police chief’s involvement in the deadly war on drugs.

The President also took exception to the US’ alleged interference in the country’s domestic affairs, including the drug war and the imprisonment of his staunch critic Senator Leila de Lima. — RSJ, GMA News