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US welcomes third suspension of VFA abrogation

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The Pentagon and U.S. Embassy in the Philippines on Tuesday welcomed the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to hold off anew the termination of the decades-old Visiting Forces Agreement(VFA) for another six months.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the US Defense department accepts the latest development in the decades-old military pact between the two countries.

“The Department welcomes the government of the Philippines’ decision to again suspend termination of the VFA,” Kirby said in a statement.

“We value the Philippines as an equal, sovereign partner in our bilateral alliance. Our partnership contributes not only to the security of our two nations but also strengthens the rules-based order that benefits all nations in the Indo-Pacific,” he added.

The US Embassy expressed a similar intent in a separate statement, saying: “We welcome the Government of the Philippines’ decision to again suspend termination of the VFA.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin announced on Monday evening the decision of President Duterte to issue fresh suspension on the decades-old military agreement after a meeting with Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez. The Chief Executive, Locsin added, wanted to address several concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement.

The country’s top diplomat did not enumerate the said concerns but in a message to reporters, his agency said it is still “waiting for guidance from the Palace on the specific areas the President would like to look more closely into”.

At a virtual briefing marking the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relations of the two nations last week, Romualdez said a revised version of the VFA has been forwarded to the Chief Executive for approval.

He did not specify what revisions were made but said the terms now agreed were “acceptable” and “mutually beneficial”.

This is the third time that the Chief Executive suspended the abrogation of the military pact. The VFA has been in limbo for over a year now after Duterte ordered its termination in response to the US visa cancellation of his ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who led his notorious war on drugs. The withdrawal period has been twice extended to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed on.

Signed in 1998 and ratified a year later, the accord serves as the foundation of military exercises between the two countries such as the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The MDT states that Manila and Washington would come to each other’s defense in case of an attack by a foreign state, while EDCA allows the US military to maintain barracks and weapons storage structures inside five Philippine military camps.

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