PHILIPPINE STAR/ KRIZJOHN ROSALES

President Rodrigo Duterte has restored a military pact with the US on the  deployment of troops for war games, reversing a decision that had caused concern in Washington and Manila. 

His decision to keep the visiting forces agreement (VFA) upholds the Philippines’ “strategic core interests,” his spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said in a statement on Friday. 

He also cited the clear definition of Philippine-US alliance as one between sovereign equals and the clarity of the US position on its obligations under the MDT Mutual Defense Treaty 

The visiting forces agreement provides rules for the rotation of thousands of US troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills. It has become more important as the United States and its allies contend with an increasingly assertive China. 

Mr. Duterte last year said he was canceling the pact after the US Embassy caneled the visa of his former police chief now Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa. He had suspended the cancelation several times amid a coronavirus pandemic. 

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana said he was unsure why Mr. Duterte had reversed himself, but made the decision after a Thursday meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila. 

The US EMbassy in Manila said the VFA enabled a broader alliance and strengthened security for both nations, as well as the rules-based order that benefited all nations in the Indo-Pacific.  

“A strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Mr. Austin said in a statement released by the embassy. 

“If the VFA will have new terms, then that is a new treaty which must be concurred in by the Senate,” Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said in a Viber message. “Since there is no announcement that there is a new VFA treaty, then we assume that what has been continued is the existing VFA.” 

“We should welcome all efforts to shore up relations with other countries, especially with our allies, as only through global cooperation can we survive from this world-wide crisis,” Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement. 

He said keeping the VFA would help strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries especially during the pandemic. 

Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino B. Biazon said Mr. Duterte’s retraction would benefit national security through “continuing cooperation with our long-standing ally” especially on matters involving the sea dispute with China. 

Members of the Makabayan bloc slammed the decision, seeing it as a move to get the US to support Mr. Duterte in the elections next year. 

“He was not really bent on abrogating the VFA,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said in a statement. 

“If at all, the prior threat to abrogate is even one way also for President Duterte to appease the United States government and court its favor behind his political plans and for his selected successor in the 2022 elections,” he added. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago, Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Russell Louis C. Ku