US DEFENSE Secretary Mark Esper has relayed to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana his gratitude for the recent decision of the Philippine government to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement which provides legal cover to military exercises between the two countries, Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said yesterday.
In February, the Department of Foreign Affairs notified the US about the Philippine government’s decision to terminate the 1951 agreement. The termination would have taken effect 180 days after the notification, or in August. But earlier this month, the Department of Foreign Affairs told the US the Philippines is suspending for six months the abrogation of the VFA. Lorenzana has said President Duterte told him “ it was not timely to end the VFA because of the global efforts against COVID-19.”
Esper and Lorenzana had a conference call on Friday night when they also discussed issues of mutual concern, like vaccines and cure being developed for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Lorenzana, in a text message, said: “He (Esper) just thanked me for supporting the suspension of the termination. We touched on the joint exercises but both agreed to suspend them until this pandemic is over.”
Andolong said among other issues of mutual concern discussed by the two defense officials were the South China Sea which is claimed by Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan. He did not give details.
“The discussion also covered the security situation in the South China Sea, counter-terrorism and logistics cooperation, particularly on the capability upgrades of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” said Andolong.
“Both sides committed to sustain dialogues amidst the pandemic and strengthen cooperation between the two defense establishments,” Andolong said.
On the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Andolong said Esper assured Lorenzana that US would share with Philippines vaccines and therapeutics being developed by the US.
Andolong said Lorenzana narrated to Esper how Philippines is fighting the virus as he “expressed appreciation for the medical assistance and donations of medical supplies provided by the US government.”
“Secretary Esper mentioned that developments on vaccines and therapeutics in the US are making very good progress, and expressed their willingness to share them with US allies and partners once available,” Andolong said.
“We will be part of the crowd that will get them as soon as they are available,” he added.