Philippines’ Duterte fully restores key troop pact with United States

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin fist bumps with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a courtesy call at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines July 29, 2021. Robinson Ninal/Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division/Handout via REUTERS

President Rodrigo Duterte has restored a crucial pact governing the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines, the two countries’ defence ministers said on Friday, reversing a decision that had caused increasing concern in Washington and Manila.

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides rules for the rotation of thousands of U.S. troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills and exercises. It has assumed additional importance as the United States and its allies contend with an increasingly assertive China.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzna said he was unsure why Duterte had reversed himself but made the decision after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila on Thursday.

Duterte’s decision won’t change much on the ground as the pact had not been terminated but it provides stability for both countries.

“This provides certainty for us going forward, we can do long-range planning and do different types of exercises,” Austin said during a news conference with his Philippine counterpart.

The Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA.

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