By Daniel Llanto

In an official visit to Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr., US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien announced the delivery of missiles promised by outgoing President Donald Trump to the Philippines in April.

Then O’Brien requested for a longer suspension of at least a year of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for a “more acceptable security arrangement.”

O’Brien is in Manila mainly for the hand-over of Washington’s donation of defense materials worth about $18 million (PHP868 million), which Trump promised to Duterte in a phone call in April.

O’Brien said he was earlier “very pleased” upon receiving a letter from Locsin informing the US of the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the termination of the VFA for the second time or by another six months.

“It was specifically addressed to me and we are very pleased to receive that letter,” O’Brien said. The US official added that the suspension of termination of the VFA was a result of cooperation between the US and the Philippines and the warm relationship between Duterte and Trump.

“We obviously would like to see that longer and that’s something I spoke with Sec. Locsin about is that if we extend it further… so that we can have some negotiations to address the important concerns of both sides of the treaty and that agreement and that will be up against an artificial deadline. So, we’re grateful for this six months,” O’Brien said at a press briefing.

“We think it will be better if it is a year or longer,” he added.

Duterte had instructed Locsin to convey his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the VFA by another six months, “to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”

The Philippines sent the US in February 11 a notice of the VFA termination, an essential agreement to ensure the effectiveness of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

“President Trump welcomed the six-month extension, the suspension and again we think that shows the strong relationship between our two countries,” O’Brien said.

In the letter to O’Brien, Locsin said “the past four years have changed the South China Sea from one of uncertainty about great powers’ intentions to one of predictability and resulting stability with regard to what can and cannot be done, what will and will not be acceptable with regard to the conduct of any protagonist in the South China Sea.”

O’Brien said: “We also hope to expand our cooperation on a whole range of security challenges, from disaster relief to maritime security. Know that the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines.”

A few weeks ago, Locsin announced that President Duterte decided to extend the suspension of the termination of the VFA with the US for another six months.

Noting Washington’s latest policy declaration on the South China Sea, O’Brien pointed out that the US  formally aligned its position on the maritime dispute with the Philippines’ arbitral win in July 2016.

The landmark ruling invalidated China’s expansive claims over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.

“We stand with the Philippines in protecting your sovereign rights, your offshore resources and all of those rights that are consistent with international law,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien also reiterated the earlier remarks of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that any armed attack on Filipino troops in the West Philippine Sea will trigger the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

“And I just want to say that those resources belong to the children and grandchildren of the people here. They belong to the Philippine people,” the US official said.

“They don’t belong to some other country that just because of might, they may be big, and they may be bigger than the Philippines, they can come take away and convert the resources of the Philippine people,” he added.

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