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US affirms commitment to alliance with PH

UNITED States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III yesterday affirmed America’s commitment to the U.S.-Philippines alliance and both countries’ bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

A readout provided by Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby also stressed the value the VFA brings to both countries.

During the introductory phone call between Austin III and Philippines Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, the officials discussed a number of priority of bilateral defense issues for both countries.

The secretaries tackled the importance of enhancing the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) capabilities and increasing interoperability between our two militaries through a variety of bilateral security cooperation activities.

They also discussed regional security challenges, to include the South China Sea (SCS), counterterrorism, and maritime security, and affirmed the importance of upholding international rules and norms, to include the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines and the US are expected to meet in the last week of February to iron out whatever differences they have and come to an agreement regarding the VFA.

Locsin explained the VFA suspension was intended that “we should continue working and I’m narrowing down the issues.”

In November, the Philippines for the second time suspended its decision to terminate the VFA.

President Rodrigo Duterte notified Washington in February 2020 that he was abrogating the agreement after the United States denied visa to Senator Ronald dela Rosa. Dela Rosa led Duterte’s war against illegal drugs when he was chief of the Philippine National Police, resulting in the alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of the MDT and its clear application if Manila came under attack in the South China Sea.

Established in 1998, the VFA provides a framework for defense forces cooperation that allows joint exercises between the Philippines and the US and provides procedures on how to resolve issues that may arise as a result of the US forces presence in the Philippines.