PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has restored a crucial pact governing the presence of US troops in the South-East Asian nation, the two countries’ defence ministers said, reversing a decision that had caused increasing concern in Washington and Manila.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides rules for the rotation of thousands of US troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills and exercises.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was unsure why Duterte had reversed himself, but added that he made the decision after meeting US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila on Thursday.
Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman, later said that the president’s decision was “based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interest... and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty)”.
Duterte’s decision will not change much on the ground as the pact had not been terminated, but it provides stability for both countries.
“This provides certainty for us going forward. We can do long-range planning and do different types of exercises,” Austin said during a news conference with his Philippine counterpart.
The Philippines is a US treaty ally, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA.
Duterte had previously vowed to terminate the pact after the United States denied a visa to a Philippine senator who is an ally of the president.
But he had repeatedly pushed back the expiration date, the last time last month, maintaining it until the end of the year.
There are, however, still questions about Duterte’s unpredictability.
“Some of the celebration is premature... (the VFA) will continue to be under threat so long as Duterte remains president,” said Aaron Connelly, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.Philippine presidential elections are set for 2022 and while Duterte is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election, his party has been encouraging him to run again for office as vice-president. — Reuters