Pentagon chief says PHL move on VFA unfortunate, move in direction

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United States Secretary of Defense Mark Thomas Esper said in an interview that the Philippines move regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is unfortunate and a move to wrong direction.

“We just got the notification late last night. We have to digest it. We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles. I’m going to hear from my commanders,” Secretary Esper said.

“But you know, in my view, it’s unfortunate that they would make this move. As you all know, as some of you know, I was just there. Some of you were with me – had very good meetings with Philippine – Philippine defense officials, to include my counterpart who is a – a very interlocutor on these matters,” he explained.

He also said that he thinks “it would be a move in the wrong direction as – as we both bilaterally with the Philippines and collectively with a number of other partners and allies in the region are trying to say to the Chinese: “You must obey the international rules of order. You must obey, you know, abide by international norms”.”

“And as we try and, you know, bolster our presence and compete with them in this era of great power competition, I think it’s a move in the wrong direction for – for, again, for the longstanding relationship we’ve had with the Philippines for their strategic location, the ties between our peoples, our countries,” Esper said.

“But look, we just got the notification last night. We’ve got to read it. We’ve got to digest it. One hundred and eighty days. We’ve got to work through it, and – and we’ll just take a deep breath and take it one day at a time,” he explained.