A SIDE agreement or “addendum” in implementing the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States has been submitted to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“There is no change in the VFA. The document will not be changed but there will be some addendum, side agreement to implement the VFA,” he said Wednesday, July 21, during a virtual forum ahead of Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
Without elaborating on what was included in the addendum, Lorenzana said that he would sign the agreement with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III, who would be visiting Manila on July 29 to July 30 to reaffirm defense ties and bilateral relations between the two nations.
“The VFA will not be changed. There will be a side agreement to implement the provisions of the VFA. Once it is signed by the President, that will be an official document that is attached to the VFA,” he said.
“That document crafted by the VFA commission is now in Malacañang and is being studied by the Office of the President,” he added.
Lorenzana also expressed confidence that Duterte will approve the new provisions.
“Yun VFA, sabi ko kanina, hindi naman namin binabago eh. Meron lang tayong dagdag na dokumento to implement the provisions. Ako naman ay nagtitiwala (We did not really change the VFA, we merely added some documents on how to implement the provisions. But I believe), I am confident… this will be signed under President Duterte,” he said.
However, the defense chief maintained that the fate of the VFA is still up to Duterte.
“But the termination letter is still pending until December so we’ll see what happens, if the President extends it or proceeds with abrogating the VFA,” said Lorenzana.
The VFA, which came into force in 1999, covers the conduct of U.S. soldiers in the Philippines. Among the provisions of the deal include relaxed visa and passport policies for U.S. troops, and the rights of the U.S. government to retain its jurisdiction over its military personnel when they commit crimes in the Philippines.
In February 2020, the Philippines sent the U.S. a notice terminating the VFA reportedly after the U.S. canceled Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa.
Last month, the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that Duterte extended the abrogation of the VFA for another six months “while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement.”
Duterte, for his part, said he is looking to speak with the U.S. government about the VFA.
“Itong Visiting Forces Agreement, ang extension niyan is on deck, on the table (The extension of the Visiting Forces Agreement is on the deck, it’s on the table),” he said Monday, July 19.
He added, “Ngayon, gusto ko lang… makipag-ugnayan (Now, I just want to… coordinate with) or I just want to talk to some people in Washington, be it from the Office of the President or the State Department or the Defense Department.” n