As part of what I earlier called Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s game of ‘balance the Dragon and the Eagle,’ or making military moves to please both the U.S. and China, Duterte notified the U.S. government in February 2020, that it intended to abrogate the critical 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
This key defense pact allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Filipino troops and lays down the legal terms for their temporary stay.
As I noted then: “This was seen as a huge blow to long-standing U.S.-Filipino military relations, and a gift to Beijing.”
In addition to protecting the Philippines from the China threat, the U.S. supports the Philippines with a robust counterterrorism program, and a major counterinsurgency effort in Mindanao, the country’s largest island, since 2000.
After several extensions to the abrogation by Duterte which many believed was, in part, intended to wring more concessions from the U.S., Duterte has finally agreed to reverse his original order and restore the VFA with the United States.
Delfin Lorenzana, Philippine national defense secretary, made the announcement following a bilateral defense meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila.
Defense Department News reported today that:
“After the meeting between Secretary Austin and the president, the president decided to recall or retract a termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana said. “So, the VFA is in full force again; there is no termination letter pending, and we are back on track with your secretary to plan for future exercises under the VFA.”
The bilateral meeting is a platform for the United States and the Philippines — treaty allies — to discuss the situation in the region and plan for the future, Lorenzana said. “It underscored the significance of the bilateral defense relations between the Philippines and the United States in light of new and emerging challenges that confront our nations,” he said.
The VFA allows the U.S. military to conduct more than 300 bilateral engagements a year with the armed forces of the Philippines. These range from military exchanges to ship visits and major joint/combined training exercises.
Beyond the VFA, the two defense leaders reportedly discussed ways to deepen and reinvigorate the security alliance, including maritime cooperation and U.S. support to the Philippines to modernize its armed forces. “They also discussed investments that will help the Philippines navigate the region’s complex security environment.”
“We also talked about how we can work toward a free and open Indo-Pacific rooted in a rules-based international order, a region in which countries work together to realize their highest aspirations and to safeguard the rights of all other citizens,” Lorenzana added. ADN