‘Wrong,’ ‘unfortunate’ –– US defense chief

February 12, 2020

UNITED States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper described as “a move in the wrong direction”  and “unfortunate” the Philippines decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States as he confirmed that Washington has received the notification.

“I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction as — as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of 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 said.

“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— for, again, for the longstanding relationship we’ve had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries,” he said in a transcript of the interview posted on the official website of the US Department of Defense.

Esper recalled that he had a “very good” meeting with his Philippine counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana when he visited the country in November.

The US Defense official said Washington has just received the notification and they still have to read and digest it.

“We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles,” he said adding “but you know, in my view, it’s unfortunate that they would make this move.”

Under the agreement, the termination will take effect 180 days after the notice is served.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper on Monday  said that terminating the VFA would affect “engagements and exercises” numbering about 300 between the Philippine and American militaries.

“What’s at risk without a VFA?  Well, without a VFA, it puts at risk things like these engagements, like these exercises,” he said.

He explained there is a recognized, broad value of not only maintaining our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will beget further procurements and interoperability between the U.S.-Philippine alliance, but the very practical application of a Visiting Forces Agreement that enables these activities like port calls, like engagements, like exercises.

No to termination          

Rejecting abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said:

“The termination of the VFA by Pres. Duterte can be viewed as ultimately putting an end to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

This continuing shift in foreign policy casting aside a long time reliable ally in favor of an aggressive neighbor that has been blatantly demonstrating its lack of respect for international law is incomprehensible and harmful to our country and our people.