President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered for the retraction of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday.
"The President decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana said in a press conference with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
Lorenzana made the announcement a day after Duterte met with Austin in Malacañang.
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.
The VFA also makes it possible for the US military to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines in combating extremist groups by providing technical assistance and enemy surveillance to Filipino troops battling the militants.
Lorenzana expressed the DND’s support for Duterte’s decision.
“While the Philippines-US alliance stands on solid ground with the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty in place, the restoration of the VFA allows us to further promote military cooperation between our two nations,” Lorezana said in a statement.
For his part, Austin said on behalf of the United States, he appreciates the decision of Duterte to “fully restore the VFA.”
“A strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goals together,” Austin said.
Austin said his top agenda during his visit to the Philippines is to find ways to boost the alliance including maritime cooperation, support for the modernization of the Philippine military, and investment to navigate the region.
According to a Palace statement on Thursday, the two officials agreed that the ties between the Philippines and the US could be heightened through "enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including drug war, maritime domain awareness, rule of law and trade and investments."
On Friday, Malacañang said Duterte's decision to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States upholds the country’s interests above all.
"The President’s decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interests, the clear definition of Philippines-United States alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Duterte ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US, a long-time Philippine defense and treaty ally, revoked the visa of his close ally, 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 February 11, 2020.
In November 2020, Duterte suspended the abrogation of the agreement amid lingering tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.
On June 14 this year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Duterte extended for another six months the suspension VFA's abrogation.
On Friday, the Philippines and the US hold a bilateral meeting with Austin and Lorenzana. —KBK/RSJ/NB, GMA News