MANILA, Philippines – Despite earlier asserting he wanted the military deal scrapped, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to suspend his earlier decision to terminate the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States due to rising tensions in the South China Sea during the pandemic.
According to Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who along with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza earlier pushed for a review of the deal instead of terminating it, neither he nor Lorenzana had been involved in Duterte’s change of mind.
“Secretary Lorenzana and I were not (driving forces). I think in this situation where he saw that the tensions in the South China Sea were getting in the way of a united response to the COVID (pandemic)… having a rise in military tensions in the South China Sea was not helping anybody,” Locsin said in an interview with ABS-CBN news on Monday, June 22.
“He just called us and said ‘That’s it, suspend it,’” Locsin added.
Recent months have seen China’s aggression in the South China Sea continue to take place despite the coronavirus pandemic, with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia objecting to Beijing’s encroachments in its waters.
Experts believe the VFA deters Chinese agression in the South China Sea.