'Superpower tensions,' pandemic led Duterte to suspend ending VFA: Locsin

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 03 2020 12:13 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks in Malacanang in this file photo taken on May 26, 2020. Karl Norman Alonzo, Presidential Photo/file

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte suspended the abrogation of the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement with the US due to "heightened super power tensions" as the world reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic, his chief diplomat said Wednesday.

The Philippines' move towards its long-standing treaty ally "alarms no countries in Asia and the rest of the world," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.

Duterte sought the abrogation of the VFA, the mechanism for joint training between the Filipino and American military forces, as he pivoted foreign policy towards China. The coronavirus crisis further heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing as US President Donald Trump blamed China for the contagion.

"A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything. He ran on the slogan ‘change is coming.’ But in the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, the 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," Locsin said.

"We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with the United States even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building a common defense towards enduring stability and peace and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part in the world," Locsin said.

In a diplomatic note to the US Embassy on Monday, Locsin conveyed Duterte’s instruction to suspend the termination of the VFA, citing "political and other developments in the region."

Washington received the note, Locsin said.

The suspension of the abrogation will be in effect for 6 months, extendable by the President for another 6 months, "after which the tolling of the initial period" contained in the February note verbale shall resume.