On Tuesday, the Philippines told the United States that it would end a major security agreement authorizing US forces to train in the country – a pivotal move under President Rodrigo Duterte, who continues to warm China while distancing himself from the colonial ruler of the nation.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin on Twitter announced that it had informed the U.S. Embassy in Manila, dragging the Philippines out of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) of 1998. The arrangement allows American forces, along with U.S. military ships and aircraft, to rotate annually with Filipino troops via Philippine military bases for approximately 300 joint exercises.
“The United States Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” tweeted Locsin. “Following this self-explanatory development there will be no further factual announcements as a diplomatic courtesy.”
The deal will expire in 180 days unless both parties can find a way to maintain it. Manila’s U.S. Embassy confirmed receipt of Manila’s notice, and said Washington “must consider carefully how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the relationship between the US and the Philippines,” the embassy said in a statement. “Deeply rooted in tradition, our two countries share a warm relationship. We remain committed to our two people’s friendship.”
Following a 69-year partnership between the two countries, solidified by the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951, President Duterte has consistently lashed out against Washington, especially following the cancelation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s U.S. visa for alleged human rights violations committed as national police chief.
Dela Rosa pursued the president’s brutal anti-drug crackdown after Duterte took office in 2016, carrying out a violent campaign that reportedly killed thousands of mostly poor Filipinos, The Associated Press stated. Meanwhile, as part of its attempts to seize control of the South China Sea, China has been courting the Philippines, as well as other nations in the region, such as Cambodia.
Duterte said President Trump tried to save the deal in a speech Monday but rejected the idea. He accused the United States of interfering in Philippine affairs, including demanding the release of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, whom he suspected of engaging in illegal drugs. She has dismissed the accusation as a fabricated charge intended to muzzle dissent.
R. Clarke Cooper, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, told reporters Monday that VFA is crucial in the implementation of a new Obama-era defense pact.
The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) requires U.S. forces to expand their stay, allowing them to build and maintain barracks and facilities, and to store defense equipment and weapons within five designated military camps in the Philippines.
“All the responsibilities, all the freedom of navigation operations, all the drills, all the joint training, getting U.S. military troops in port, on the ground, on the flight line, requires that we have a mechanism that allows that, and that’s why the VFA is so critical,” Cooper said Monday at a reporter teleconference.
Speaking to the Philippines Senate last week, Locsin proposed amending VFA, rather than scrapping it, arguing that its termination would affect joint exercises and other activities with U.S. forces “which the Philippine military and law enforcement agencies need to enhance in their capacity to counter threats to national security.”
The U.S. provided the Philippines with more than $550 million in security assistance from 2016 to 2019, Locsin said, adding that if the Philippines downgrades its security relationship with Washington, there could be a “chilling effect on our economic relations.”
American forces provided intelligence, training, and assistance that allowed the Philippines to deal with human trafficking, cyber-attacks, illegal narcotics and terrorism, Locsin said, citing how U.S. military assistance helped the Filipino forces quench a devastating siege by Islamic State group-aligned militants in the southern city of Marawi in 2017.