Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has officially retracted his decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact with the US that outlines rules for US troops to be stationed in the Philippines on a rotational basis.
Duterte was ready to scrap the VFA last year and kick US troops out of his country over sanctions Washington imposed on Philippine officials. But he reversed the decision over tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea. The VFA was temporarily extended several times, and now the extension is permanent.
The decision was announced Friday by Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a joint press conference with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who is on a small tour of the region to shore up ties to counter China. “The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana told reporters. “There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track.”
The VFA is one of three military pacts between the two countries. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allows the US to use five military bases in the Philippines, and the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) obligates each country to come to the defense of the other in the event of an attack.
US officials have recently invoked the MDT over a maritime dispute between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea, warning China that Washington will intervene if a Philippine vessel is attacked in the waters. “I would reemphasize that it [the MDT] does extend to the South China Sea,” Austin said on Thursday.
With China being the Pentagon’s primary focus, the Philippines are in a good position to squeeze some more money out of the US and are expected to get more military aid for restoring the VFA. Earlier this year, a spokesman for Duterte said what the US currently provides the Philippines amounts to “loose change” when compared with other countries.