The Philippines on Monday temporarily extended the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows US troops in the Southeast Asian country on a rotational basis.
Last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte informed the US that he was scrapping the deal over US sanctions on Philippine officials. Duterte was ready to kick US troops out of his country but reversed the decision over tensions with China in the South China Sea.
Monday’s extension was the third time the Philippines suspended the decision to scrap the VFA. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the VFA will be extended another six months while Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The US and Philippines share several military treaties, including a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that is reliant on the VFA. The two countries are expected to work out a more permanent agreement to keep US troops in the country. With the Biden administration prioritizing countering China and the Pentagon now identifying China as the top “pacing challenge,” a continued US troop presence in the Philippines is likely a high priority for Biden officials.
Earlier this year, tensions were high between Manila and Beijing over the presence of Chinese vessels near a reef claimed by both countries in the South China Sea. The incident led to US officials reminding China that the MDT covers attacks on Philippine ships in the South China Sea. Meaning, the US is willing to go to war to defend reefs claimed by Manila in the region.