DFA: COVID-19, ‘superpower tensions’ suspend VFA termination

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said the COVID-19 pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions” made President Rodrigo Duterte change his mind and suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a letter Tuesday, informed the US Embassy of Duterte’s decision to postpone the VFA abrogation for six months from June 1. The Philippines could further extend the suspension for another six months.

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DFA: COVID-19, 'superpower tensions' suspend VFA termination
DFA Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. (Image from Rappler)

“I will answer only one question which I will ask myself: Why? Why did he change his mind?” Locsin said in a press conference on Wednesday.

“A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything,” Locsin said, citing that the President’s slogan campaign is “Change is coming.”

“In the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” he said. Locsin was referring to the economic and political conflicts between the United States and the world’s other superpowers, China and Russia. 

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The DFA exec said suspending the VFA abrogation “reassures everyone” that the country would continue its “strong military partnership with the United States even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies” for economic progress and peace. 

Meanwhile, former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario, who opposed the VFA termination, congratulated the President.

“It’s a good day,” he said in a text message to reporters on Wednesday.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also welcomed President Duterte’s “change of heart,” noting that the Philippines needed stronger military defense alliance with the US amid recent Chinese “intrusions” in the West Philippine Sea.

“The last thing that we should lose is the balance of power that the US, among other allies like Australia and other neighbors, can provide to suit our national interest and territorial integrity,” Lacson told the Inquirer in a Viber message.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana meanwhile said Wednesday the country could expect more COVID-19 aid from the US as the Philippines suspend the termination of VFA.

“In the next six months — this is only my guess — the assistance of the US will increase to fight the pandemic. They already give us some help or assistance recently, especially in providing equipment in our quarantine facilities,” Lorenzana told CNN.

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