Philippines’ Duterte scraps US troop deal

Philippines’ Duterte scraps US troop deal
The Philippines notified the United States of its intent to terminate a major security pact allowing American forces to train in the country in the most serious threat to the countries’ treaty alliance under President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP Photo)
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Updated 11 February 2020

Philippines’ Duterte scraps US troop deal

Philippines’ Duterte scraps US troop deal
  • President threatened to do away with Visiting Forces Agreement last week
  • Move to have wide-ranging impact on bilateral and defense ties, officials warn

MANILA: The Philippines on Tuesday sent a formal notice informing the US of its decision to pull out from the Visiting Forces Agreement that was signed between the two allies in 1998.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. confirmed this through a Twitter post on Tuesday that “the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States has received the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”
He added: “As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no factual announcements following this self-explanatory development.”
The US Embassy, through its Press Attache Heather Fabrikant, confirmed this. “The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) informed us of the Philippines’ intent to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” excerpts from a statement released by the US embassy read.
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance. We will carefully consider how to best move forward to advance our shared interests,” it added.
It said that both countries enjoyed a warm relationship that was deeply rooted in history, while reiterating its commitment to maintain the friendship between the two.
On Monday, a senior US official warned that the termination of the agreement would put at risk nearly 300 engagements and exercises conducted annually by the militaries of both the countries.
The VFA, according to US State Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clark Cooper, “provides a framework” that enables activities such as port calls, the annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder), and other joint exercises between Filipino and American forces.
“Absent that agreement, we do put at risk those activities that the different defenses, the different services in the Philippines very much value,” Cooper said. Hence “the necessity to have some sort of agreement to ensure that those exercises can take place unimpeded.”
Cooper said that a significant amount of resources had been invested in the bilateral relationship. “I don’t think anyone in the government of the Philippines would want to put at risk the numerous engagements,” he said.
Despite Duterte’s comments last week threatening to do away with the VFA, Cooper — during a telephone conference with journalists — said that there was still an opportunity for both sides to discuss the issue when they met for bilateral strategic dialogue next month.
“We already have a tentatively planned bilateral strategic dialogue with the US and the Philippines in March, and certainly the Visiting Forces Agreement would be part of that dialogue, but it’ll also be part of the broader commitments that we have with each other,” Cooper said.
However, in a press briefing in Malacanang on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that the president had issued the order, through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, to serve the notice of termination on Monday night.
The termination will come into effect 180 days after the US has received the notice.