President Duterte extended for another six months the suspension of the abrogation of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the US and would continue doing so until Washington satisfactorily explains why it brokered an agreement that called only for the Philippine ships to pull out of Scarborough Shoal during a stand-off with China in 2012.
Malacañang said Duterte may decide to extend the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States if the US offers a “satisfactory explanation” of its actions in one of the disputed territories in the South China Sea that resulted in a “loss” for the Philippines.
In a TV interview, Duterte questioned why the US brokered an agreement that called only for the Philippines to pull out its ships from Panatag Shoal (also known as Scarborough Shoal) during a stand-off with China in 2012.
“The VFA now is the problem. We have a big problem because America served as the broker and we withdrew. Why did they not force China to withdraw also? Unless they can explain it to me in a very simple way that can be understood by the entire Philippines, then I can begin to talk about their foreign forces,” Duterte said
“Pero ‘pag hindi, medyo malabo. Malabo, malabo ‘yan. Sobra tayong binabastos ng Amerikano talaga,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President wanted a “satisfactory explanation” as to why the US allowed the Philippines to lose the territory to China.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Duterte decided to suspend the termination of crucial security pact instead of renewing it so that both sides could study and address his “concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement.”
“We are waiting for guidance from the Palace on the specific areas the President would like to look more closely into,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Duterte’s decision was conveyed to Locsin and Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez in a meeting.
Romualdez earlier said Duterte was supposed to decide on the fate of the VFA, which allows US forces to train with Filipino counterparts in the country, following weeks of negotiations between the Philippines and the US. It appeared that the Balikatan exercises held in Manila early this year was not covered by the VFA.
Duterte said the US should explain why it did not pressure China to leave Scarborough Shoal during a standoff with the Philippines in 2012 before he makes a decision on whether or not to renew the VFA.
The Philippines lost control over the Scarborough Shoal after China reneged on a US-brokered agreement for both Manila and Beijing to simultaneously withdraw its vessels from the area to end a stand-off in 2012.
The shoal, a U-shaped rocky outcrop rich in marine resources seized by Beijing from Manila in 2012 following a two-month stand-off, is 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan and lies 124 nautical miles off the nearest Philippine landmass of Palawan.
China’s action triggered an international arbitration complaint by the Philippines eight years ago. The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and declared China’s massive and historic claim on the South China Sea as baseless under international law. China refused to recognize the ruling.
In a most serious threat to Manila’s 69-year-old alliance with Washington, Duterte last year ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US, a long-time Philippine defense and treaty ally, revoked the visa of his close aide and former police chief now senator, Ronald Dela Rosa.
The VFA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the US and the Philippines as security partners after World War II. It is a framework agreement that covers the treatment and presence of American forces in the country with or without war games.