MANILA - The Philippines and the United States are in talks for the crafting of an "improved" Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after Manila moved to abrogate the military pact this month, the country's top diplomat in Washington said Friday.
Speaking at a forum in Makati City, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez said he and his counterpart, US Ambassador Sung Kim, were looking into the Philippines' defense agreements with Japan and Australia as possible templates of the new deal.
"We are now in the process of trying to find ways and means to be able to see how we can either come up with something similar. Perhaps, again, still following the President's thinking about the sovereignty issue," he said.
"It's working quite well for us. We've [Kim] been talking almost every day and seeing how we can move forward for our relationship with the United States," Romualdez added.
The new "improved" deal will then be recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte, who ordered the termination of the VFA after the US visa of his long-time ally Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa was canceled for still undisclosed reasons.
The VFA, signed in 1998, governs the conduct of American troops while in the Philippines.
Romualdez said the VFA may not be the "be-all-end-all" of Manila's ties with Washington, but the Philippines could not ignore a country like the United States.
"It is a country that while we have sort of special relationship, we have the MDT [Mutual Defense Treaty], we have all these things going on, but at the end of the day, I think anyone, any country around the world will agree that the United States is a major country that no one can ignore including China," he said.
As both countries continue to discuss their relationship, Romualdez said there' still hope to keep the VFA.
"From what I'm told the door is not totally shut, as far as it is concerned. But again the bottom line always falls on sovereignty," he said.
On Feb. 11, the foreign affairs department formally notified the US government it was withdrawing from the VFA. The abrogation will take effect 180 days after.
US President Donald Trump said he was "fine" with the termination of the treaty, adding that Washington would be able to save a lot of money
The VFA is anchored on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington. Another pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, is an executive agreement forged by the 2 parties in 2014 that allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines.