By: The Kabul Times
President Rodrigo Duterte has restored a pact governing the presence of US troops in the Philippines, the two countries’ defence secretaries announced on Friday, retracting a decision that had caused increasing concern among policymakers 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. It has assumed additional importance as the United States and its allies contend with an increasingly assertive China, particularly in the disputed South China Sea.
“Let me thank President Duterte for his decision to fully restore the visiting forces agreement,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday in a joint press briefing with his Philippine counterpart, Delfin Lorenza.
Duterte’s decision provides the US “some degree of certainty going forward”, he said, noting the US role in “counterinsurgency efforts” in the southern island of Mindanao.
“We can plan further in advance and with that long-range planning, we can actually do more comprehensive exercises.”
The US Embassy in Manila also welcomed the news saying that the agreement “strengthens not only the security of our two nations, but also the rules-based order” in the region.
Duterte said last year that he planned to cancel the VFA but extended it until December.
Lorenzana said he was unsure why Duterte had changed his mind but made the decision after meeting Austin in Manila on Thursday night.
“Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crisis to the pandemic,” he said, adding that the Philippine-US alliance “will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.”
“A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”