US: Philippines’ withdrawal from VFA ‘wrong’

Philippine Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo

The decision of the Philippines to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States was a move in the wrong direction, a US Cabinet official said on Tuesday.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed that Washington has received the Philippines’ formal notice to scrap the bilateral agreement covering visiting American troops.

“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.

“And as we try and, you know, bolster our presence and compete with them (China) in this era of great power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction,” he emphasized.

Esper said that the US has yet to digest the notice to end the defense pact, adding that both parties will have to work through policy and military aspects.

Esper said it was unfortunate that the Philippines decided to abrogate the agreement, adding that he just sat in November with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, results of which were “very good.”

As indicated, the termination is set to take effect 180 days upon receipt of the US of the withdrawal notice. Meantime, Article IX of the agreement states the VFA remains in force until the end of the period.

At a news briefing on Tuesday, Philippine time, Philippine Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo confirmed that Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. signed the termination papers and sent it immediately to the US government.

“As the President said, it’s about time we rely on our resources,” Panelo said.

Earlier this year, Locsin warned of the far-reaching consequences of the VFA termination, saying that the “continuance of the agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits were it to be terminated.”