Philippines to maintain a longstanding military pact with US

by Warren Ryan Revoltar

The Philippine government reversed itself Tuesday and said it would maintain a longstanding military pact, the Visiting Forces Agreement, with the United States that President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized as unfair.

Teodoro Locsin, Philippine foreign secretary made the announcement on Tuesday via Twitter saying that he had informed Washington in a diplomatic note.

According to Locsin, the decision not to terminate the agreement was made “in light of political and other developments in the region.”

Welcoming the reversal, the United States Embassy in Manila said in a statement: “Our longstanding alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines.”

Some political analysts interpreted the reversal as a sign that China’s neighbors are worried about its growing military assertiveness.

More so, given that the Philippines is the only U.S. treaty ally bordering the South China Sea, a vital maritime shipping route, some analysts saw the reversal as a strategic gain for the United States.

“In light of China’s continued assertion of its historic rights in Vietnamese and Malaysian waters over the last year, Manila may have concluded that its previous rapprochement with Beijing would not protect Philippine interests,” said M. Taylor Fravel, a political-science professor who is director of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Beijing has long sought to weaken U.S. alliances, and has benefited from the friction in recent years in U.S.-Philippine relations,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“So a decision by Manila to suspend plans to terminate the V.F.A. will be seen as contrary to Chinese interests,” Glaser added.

There was no immediate comment from China on the Philippines’ decision.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, Philippine forces have received training from their American counterparts to combat terrorism and drug trafficking. Hundreds of joint exercises are conducted annually.

Jose Antonio Custodio, a military historian at the Institute of Policy, Strategy and Development Studies, a Philippine think tank, said that Manila needed the alliance more than the United States did, adding that the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic would “wallop” the Philippines’ ability to maintain and modernize its armed forces.

Edited from an article written by Jason Gutierrez, The New York Times

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