PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte has suspended the termination of a military agreement with the United States on the deployment of troops for war games “in light of political and other developments in the region,” according to its Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The suspension of the 21-year-old visiting forces agreement (VFA) is effective for half a year and may be extended by another six months, DFA told the US Embassy in a letter dated June 1.
The agency said it “avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the embassy of the United States of America the assurance of its highest consideration,” according to the letter.
“The United States welcomes the Philippine government’s decision,” the US Embassy said in an e-mailed statement. “Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines.”
The country’s diplomats earlier advised Mr. Duterte about the risks of ending the military pact. The tough-talking Philippine leader on Feb. 11 announced his decision to end the deal after the US visa of Senator Ronald M. de la Rosa, his former police chief, was canceled.
Lawmakers earlier asked the Supreme Court to issue jurisprudence on whether the President can end a treaty without Senate concurrence.
Mr. Duterte’s decision, sparked by the revocation of a US visa held by a former police chief who led his bloody war on drugs, was supposed to take effect in August.
Mr. Duterte’s decision could have complicated US military interests in the broader Asia-Pacific region as China’s ambitions rise.
Some Filipino senators have sought to block the move, arguing Mr. Duterte had no right to unilaterally scrap international pacts the country’s Senate had ratified.
The VFA is important to the overall US-Philippine alliance and sets out rules for US soldiers operating in the Philippines, a former US colony.
Washington has called the relationship “ironclad,” despite Duterte’s complaints that include allegations of US hypocrisy and ill treatment.
Ending the VFA complicates Washington’s efforts to maintain an Asia-Pacific troop presence amid friction over the presence of US personnel in Japan and South Korea and security concerns about China and North Korea.
Some lawmakers in the Philippines are concerned that without the VFA, two other pacts that make up the long-standing US alliance with Manila would be irrelevant, namely the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement made under the Obama administration, and a 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty.
Salvador S. Panelo, Mr. Duterte’s former spokesman, had called the VFA a one-sided deal that only benefits the US. — Norman P. Aquino and Charmaine A. Tadalan