Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has told his foreign affairs chief to give official notice to the United States of his termination of a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between their militaries, his spokesman said on Tuesday, reiterating an earlier threat.
Duterte, who has openly disapproved of the two countries’ military alliance, made the decision after a close ally said his visa for the US had been rescinded, in an issue related to the president’s deadly war on drugs.
“It’s about time we rely on ourselves, we will strengthen our own defences and not rely on any other country,” Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo told a regular briefing, quoting the president.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), signed in 1998, accorded legal status to thousands of US troops who were rotated into the country for military exercises and to provide humanitarian assistance.
In the last few days, Duterte’s cabinet members have been going back-and-forth on the president’s policy, with his spokesman saying on Friday that an order to end the deal had been issued, while his foreign and defence secretaries said there has been no final decision yet on the matter.
But on Saturday, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called the announcement “fake news”.
Last month, Duterte said he would end the 1999 deal after the US government cancelled a tourist visa issued to Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, the former national police chief and top Duterte ally.
“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate the … Visiting Forces Agreement. I’ll end that son of a b****,” the brash-speaking Duterte said in a January 23 speech.
Dela Rosa implemented Duterte’s crackdown against illegal drugs, which has left thousands of suspected drug users dead.
It was not clear when the termination notice was officially issued.
According to the agreement, it can be terminated through written notice from either party, which would take effect in 180 days.
At the end of last year, Duterte had also ordered a ban on US senators entering the Philippines.
That was in response to the US doing the same against Filipino officials who played a role in the detention of opposition Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of the president’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Duterte has also barred his cabinet officials from travelling to the US and turned down an invitation to join a special meeting with Trump and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations in March.
A separate defence pact subsequently signed by the allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allowed the extended stay of US forces and authorised them to build and maintain barracks and warehouses and store defence equipment and weapons inside five designated Philippine military camps.
But terminating the VFA would affect more than 300 joint training sessions and other activities this year alone with US forces “which the Philippine military and law enforcement agencies need to enhance their capabilities in countering threats to national security,” according to Dutertes’ Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The US provided more than $550m in security assistance to the Philippines from 2016 to 2019, Locsin said, adding that there may be a “chilling effect on our economic relations” if the Philippines withdraws from the security alliance with Washington.
US forces have also provided intelligence, training and aid that allowed the Philippines to deal with human trafficking, cyberattacks, illegal narcotics and “terrorism”, Locsin said, citing how US military assistance helped Filipino forces quell a disastrous siege by armed fighters aligned with the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in the southern city of Marawi in 2017.