Manila, June 3 (efe-epa).- Manila on Wednesday announced that it would suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, a controversial decision made in February by the Philippines president during heightened tensions with Washington.
“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with the United States even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building a common defense towards enduring stability and peace and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part in the world,” the Philippines’ Foreign Secretary Teodore Locsin said in a press conference.
At Rodrigo Duterte’s order, Locsin notified the US embassy in Manila of the decision to keep in effect the VFA, which provides legal cover for US troops to conduct joint maneuvers in the Philippines and is one of the pillars of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951.
In the letter sent to the embassy on June 1, the Philippines wrote that “in light of the political and other developments in the region, the termination of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of the United States Regarding the Treatment of the United States Visiting Forces Visiting the Philippines, is hereby suspended.”
It did not provide any further details on the developments.
In response, the US embassy said the nations’ “long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines.”
Duterte had backtracked on this decision after the Donald Trump administration announced in May the sale of weapons to the Philippines – six combat helicopters, missiles and ammunition – worth some $2 billion.
“In times of crises and global uncertainty, it is our belief that nations are only made stronger if we work together and focus our efforts on tackling the various challenges that confront us all,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
Despite Duterte’s critical stance on the US, defense ties remain strong. Joint maneuvers and counter-terrorism cooperation have increased as the Philippines is threatened by jihadist and communist insurgencies, in addition to a territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Duterte announced on Feb. 11 that he would shelve the VFA – a measure that would come into force after 6 months – in retaliation for the imposition of sanctions by Washington on Philippine officials implicated in human rights violations.
The trigger for that decision was the withdrawal of the 10-year visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, one of the main political allies of the Philippines president, and who was chief of police between July 2016 and April 2018 and mastermind of the bloody war against drugs launched by Duterte, widely condemned by international organizations. EFE-EPA