MANILA: Joint combat drills between Philippine and US forces will end with the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in August, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday.
“Once the termination is final, we will cease to have exercises with them,” Lorenzana said in his first public statement since the Philippines formally served notice of the termination of the VFA to the US.
Signed in 1998 and ratified in 1999, the VFA provides legal cover to American troops temporarily deployed in the Philippines to participate in military activities including joint exercises.
Article IX of the VFA says: “This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
However, Lorenzana said military drills between the Philippines and US armed forces scheduled to take place while the VFA is still in effect will still happen.
“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” Lorenzana explained.
Over 300 military exercises between the two armed forces are scheduled for this year, including the annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercise scheduled to take place May 3 to 15.
This year marks the 36th iteration of the annual training event, which is focused on a variety of missions including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, counterterrorism, and mutual defense.
The Balikatan exercise, the most prominent of the Philippines-US joint exercises, also focuses on interoperability training events.
Lorenzana, however, said their American counterparts “may opt to discontinue the scheduled exercises before the 180 days are up.”
On Wednesday, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Felimon Santos said around half of the 318 activities laid out this year with their US counterparts will be affected once the VFA is terminated.
Santos added that the Armed Forces support President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to scrap the agreement, and said that the Philippines will survive without the VFA.
The AFP chief also said that to make up for losing the VFA with the US, the Philippines will increase its engagements with other countries, including Japan and Australia, and will look to sign VFAs with such allies.