New US-Philippines defense pact ‘in the works’

President of the United States of America and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte during the 31st ASEAN GALA Dinner Photo by Russell Palma Pool Photo

The United States and the Philippines are crafting a new defense pact that could replace the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that was proposed for withdrawal late last year.

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez told a forum by Stratbase ADR Institute on Friday that the two countries are in the process of “trying to find ways and means” to be able to come out with a similar defense pact that would take into account President Rodrigo Duterte’s sovereignty concern.

“From what I’m told, the door is not totally shut… But again, the bottom-line always falls on sovereignty,” he said, refusing to divulge details as the discussions are currently limited to the “diplomatic level” involving US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim.

Earlier this month, the Philippines sent its VFA withdrawal notice to the United States covering visiting American troops.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper was quoted as saying that the Philippines’ abrupt withdrawal was “a move in the wrong direction.”

“I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as we both, bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with several other partners and allies in the region, are trying to say to the Chinese, ‘You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms,’” Esper was quoted as saying in a transcript posted on the US Department of Defense’ official website.

Upon receipt of the US of the withdrawal notice, the termination will take effect after 180 days. Meantime, Article IX of the agreement states the VFA remains in force until the end of the period.

In an interview with the media at the White House earlier this month, US President Donald Trump was quoted as saying that he was fine with the scrapping of VFA, adding “it will save a lot of money” for the US.

He said he had “a very good” relationship with Duterte. “We’ll see what happens.”