The Philippines has notified the US that it’s terminating a 22-year-old military agreement, which can be ended with 180-days notice, just hours after President Rodrigo Duterte said President Donald Trump was trying to save the deal.
The notice to terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement — which sets the terms for joint exercises and engagement of American soldiers in the Philippines — has been transmitted to the US, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. Scrapping the agreement would be the first concrete step by the Philippines to cut defense ties with the US, a move that Duterte had signalled since his six-year term started in 2016 and as he realigned his foreign policy towards China.
The Philippines and the US signed in 1951 a mutual defense treaty which binds the nations to defend each other, if attacked.
“Trump, and the others, are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Duterte said in a speech in Manila. “I said, I don’t want it,” according to the official transcript.
The US Embassy in the Philippines confirmed it had been informed of Duterte’s intent to scrap the agreement, but said it remained committed to the relationship between the two countries.
“This is a serious step with significant implications for the US-Philippines alliance,” the embassy said in a statement. “We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests.”
Scrapping the military deal will bring the Southeast Asian nation closer to China, as US support for Philippine military will likely be reduced, said Malcolm Cook, senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“As with many other decisions made by President Duterte, China appears to be the biggest winner and Philippine external security the biggest loser,” Cook said.
The Philippines may find it difficult to access millions of dollars in military aid, and trade relations may also be hurt once the pact is terminated, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said. Joint military activities — including training for thousands of Philippine and American soldiers — will also be severely curtailed, he added.