#AceNewsReport – July.30: But now Mr Duterte has agreed to “restore” the VFA after meeting with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin during his visit to the Philippines…..
#AceDailyNews says that Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte last year issued a formal notice to tear up the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides the legal framework for US troops in the South-East Asian nation and Philippines has directed its fishermen to ignore China’s annual ban on trawling in waters after Beijing claims it as its own. But not everyone wants to face off against a global superpower without another on its side ……
Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told journalists the VFA was now “in full force again” following the meeting – although he conceded he didn’t know what had prompted Mr Duterte’s move.
Mr Austin thanked Mr Duterte for his decision, calling the Philippines a “vital treaty ally”.
“Our countries face a range of challenges, and as we do a strong resilient US-Philippines alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
“A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”
Mr Austin also said the two countries were looking at new ways to deepen security cooperation.
What was behind Duterte’s moves?
The announcement caps a tumultuous period in the US-Philippines relationship.
Mr Duterte first declared he would tear up the VFA in early 2020 after the US cancelled the visa of Philippines senator Ronald Dela Rosa, one of his key political lieutenants.
Mr Dela Rosa had been accused of orchestrating extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration’s brutal war on drugs when he was a police chief.
Mr Duterte has also drawn much closer to China, declaring back in 2016 that the Philippines needed to “separate” itself from its long time military alliance with the US. Fishermen in David and Goliath battle with China
But senior military officers and officials in the Philippines have been pressing internally to retain the VFA, and Mr Duterte subsequently suspended the process of termination no fewer than three times as negotiations over the agreement dragged on.
Analysts said Mr Duterte hesitated to sever military links with the US, in part because of rising tensions between China and the Philippines over contested waters in the South China Sea.
The military in the Philippines remains anxious about China’s rapidly growing naval strength and sees the VFA — which provides rules for the rotation of thousands of US troops in the country for war exercises — as a bulwark against Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea.
The dispute over the VFA also took on powerful symbolism as strategic competition between the US and China intensifies in the region.
Earlier in the year, Mr Duterte declared that the US must “pay” more in order to preserve the agreement and demanded the Biden administration provide more vaccines to the Philippines.
Last month, the Biden administration delivered more than 3 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the country.
Hunter Marston from the ANU’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs said the declaration that the VFA would be restored “caps a dramatic year and a half for the US-Philippines alliance”.
“Duterte’s threat to scrap VFA would have rendered the alliance all but symbolic and significantly hampered Washington’s military presence in the region as it struggles to roll back China’s expansion in the South China Sea,” he said.
“The restoration of the VFA does not preclude future policy reversals from the unpredictable Duterte, but for the time being at least, this was a very good week for the bilateral alliance.”
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