Senate, Palace signal bid to delay move to end VFA

File photo of Balikatan exercises

SENATE leaders are in no rush to tackle calls to terminate the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“Give us time to review, rethink and assess our defense relationships,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday.

Asked if the senators are looking to come up with a “new” VFA providing better terms, Sotto indicated there may be “no need to do so.”

“We can simply come to some agreements on amendments,” the Senate leader said.

Sotto suggested, for instance, that it could include “a provision on automatic US defense posture on any aggression against the Philippines.”

The Senate leader added, however, he would still need to verify if that would still require Senate concurrence. “It depends. Maybe not. I’ll have to check.”

In a radio interview, Sotto signaled support for reviewing the defense accord, in the wake of recent signals from the Executive indicating that President Duterte may move back anew the “six-month” termination process.

Duterte initially ordered Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to serve a notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy in Manila, after what Palace officials described as a series of frustrating developments, capped by the cancellation of the US visa of his former close aide, now Senator Ronald de la Rosa.

Midway into the six-month process of termination that starts to run with the service of notice, Locsin, on Palace orders, notified the US government that Manila decided to suspend the termination process.

Suspension extended

Earlier this week, Locsin hinted that the suspension period of the VFA, which was to end this December, will continue.

In his Asia Society speech, he told the audience: “Let me assure you that in suspending the abrogation, not a single protagonist in the South China Sea is unhappy, worried or anything; but totally satisfied that we have suspended the abrogation because it has restored the status quo ante, it has brought everything back the way they did since World War II.”

Asked what would happen to the VFA come December, Locsin said, “I don’t know. We will look at the situation.”

During a tense moment in September, the Americans sent a battle group twice to the South China Sea apparently to show their commitments to defend their Asian allies. This coincided with the conduct by the Chinese of military exercises in the contested waters.

“An American power has been in full display since then. The Seventh Fleet has been deployed. The Air Force has been deployed. Tensions are rising in the South China Sea throughout Southeast Asia. I reported this to the President,” Locsin said.

“I said in Asia Society that the military presence of the United States in Asia is essential to stability and that’s basic,” Locsin recalled in an interview with CNN Philippines this week.

“That’s the basic balance of power theory. You need them out there because, even among best friends, even among very good friends, if one guy feels that the [inaudible] over the other, he might just take advantage of that advantage, however, if the other guy has another friend in the area, then I think everybody starts to think 10 times before overreaching, so I said, there’s no doubt in my mind, the US is an essential hegemonic presence in Asia,” he added.

So, would you recommend the continuation of the Visiting Forces Agreement after the suspension of the abrogation ends in December? CNN Philippines host Pinky Webb asked.

Locsin said he is going to study it “and at the same time I have a great profound respect for the wisdom of my President.”

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