Duterte ends troop agreement with United States

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Rodrigo R. Duterte

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte formally notified the US of his decision to pull out of a military agreement on the deployment of troops for war games, the first time he has scrapped a military deal with the former colonial power that he had criticized for treating the Philippines “like a dog on a leash.”

The tough-talking Mr. Duterte had pushed for the Philippines to be less economically and militarily dependent on the US, which he accuses of hypocrisy in its criticism of his deadly war on drugs.

Mr. Duterte ordered his chief diplomat on Monday evening to send the notice of termination for the visiting forces agreement (VFA), presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said at a briefing yesterday, after the US visa of his former police chief was canceled.

“It’s about time we rely on our own resources. We have to strengthen our own capability as a country relative to the defense of our land,” his spokesman said, quoting Mr. Duterte.

“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippine alliance,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement. “ We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”

The termination of the pact will take effect six months after the US government receives the notice, Mr. Panelo said, adding that a dialog with the US was not needed.

“From what I read from the agreement, there is no need for that. There is no response needed.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said the US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission had received the notice.

“As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,” he said in a social media post yesterday.

On Monday, a US official warned that the VFA termination, which was still being planned at the time of his remarks, would affect hundreds of military-to-military engagements between Manila and Washington.

“The United States has about 300 engagements and exercises that we conduct bilaterally with the Philippines,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper was quoted in an emailed transcript of a teleconference from Singapore.

“There’s a recognized, broad value of not only maintaining our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that will beget further procurements and interoperability between the US-Philippine alliance, but the very practical application of a visiting forces agreement that enables these activities like port calls, like engagements, like exercises,” he said.

Mr. Locsin had told senators during a hearing the benefits of keeping the VFA outweighed what the Philippines would gain if it was terminated.

The secretary also said ending the deal would render other Philippine-US defense pacts inoperative, including the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Mr. Duterte on Monday said he was firm about ending the VFA despite efforts of US President Donald Trump to keep the agreement.

The Philippine Senate on Monday adopted a resolution urging Mr. Duterte to reconsider his plan to terminate the agreement pending its review.

Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief who led his anti-illegal drug campaign before he became a lawmaker, did not vote.

Both Mr. Duterte’s allies and critics at the Senate and House of Representatives earlier said he should end the VFA, which the two nations signed in 1998, for reasons weightier than the cancellation of a political ally’s US visa.

Mr. de la Rosa was also considered to be among those responsible for the detention of Senator Leila M. de Lima, a staunch critic of Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

The VFA allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over American soldiers accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are “of particular importance” to the Southeast Asian nation.

The US Senate last year passed a resolution asking the Philippine government to release Ms. de Lima. It also sought to block the entry and freeze the US assets of officials behind drug-related killings and Ms. de Lima’s “wrongful detention.”

US President Donald Trump also signed into law last year the nation’s 2020 budget, which includes a clause allowing the US secretary of state to ban the entry of Philippine officials behind Ms. de Lima’s detention.

Ms. de Lima has been in jail since February 2017 for drug trafficking. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas