Duterte restores pact allowing US war exercises

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recommitted his country to a key military agreement with the U.S. during a visit by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after repeatedly threatening to terminate the pact. 

Austin, along with Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, announced the restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) during a joint press briefing from Manila on Friday. 

Austin thanked Duterte for the renewal, adding, “A strong, resilient US-Philippines alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” according to CNN

“A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together,” he added. 

The military pact, which was first signed in 1988, authorizes the entry and rotation of thousands of U.S. troops in the Philippines for war drills and exercises and has been perceived as a means to protect the Philippines under the two countries’ 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty. 

Duterte had previously said he wanted to end the pact after the U.S. denied a visa to a Philippine senator and ally of the president, though he repeatedly pushed back his desired expiration date. 

Reuters reported that Lorenzana said Duterte reversed course after his meeting with Lloyd Thursday, with Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, adding that the president made his decision “based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interest … and clarity of U.S. position on its obligations and commitments under the MDT [Mutual Defense Treaty].”

Austin tweeted praise for the work of Philippine officials to achieve a restored VFA, including Lorenzana, with whom he said he discussed “a range of defense topics, including President Duterte’s decision to fully restore the Visiting Forces Agreement.” 

“Today underscored the vital nature of our treaty alliance with Philippines, our oldest treaty alliance in Asia,” Austin added. 

In a later tweet, Austin wrote, “America’s network of alliances & friendships is an unparalleled strategic asset, and it’s an asset I do not take for granted.” 

Despite the uncertainty on Duterte’s position on the VFA, Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month issued a statement reaffirming its military commitment to the Philippines, as well as rejecting China’s claim to the South China Sea. 

“We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken said at the time.

Tags Antony Blinken China CNN Defense Department Lloyd Austin military agreement mutual defense Philippines Reuters South China Sea

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