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The Philippines Cancel U.S. Military Withdrawal

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The Philippines finally decided to call back the abrogation of the Visiting Force Agreement with the United States. A withdrawal postponed three times and never acted.

US first visit since Biden's election to the Philippines restored the Visiting Force Agreement
U.S. and Philippine Secretaries of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Delfin Lorenzana. The U.S.’s first visit since Biden’s election to the Philippines restored the Visiting Force Agreement | Twitter

On July 30, 2021, president Rodrigo Duterte decided that the Philippines would not withdraw from the Visiting Force Agreement after a meeting with the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced it during a joint press briefing with his American counterpart, the first Biden administration’s official who comes to the Philippines.

The VFA allows U.S. troops to operate in the Philippines and is the basis of further cooperation or military assistance with the U.S. It allows unrestricted movements of the American military forces in the Philippines or exempts military personnel from visa procedures.

But Duterte abruptly decided to abrogate the military cooperation in February 2020, shortly after the visa for the U.S. of his former police chief was revoked. The former police chief, now senator, led Duterte’s violent and controversial war of drugs. The senator was suspected of being involved in extrajudicial killings.

The abrogation of the military agreement never happened

The abrogation was postponed in June 2020, November 2020 and more recently in June 2021 for another 6 months to further address “concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement“.

Duterte originally said he wanted to renegotiate the terms of the contract and have the U.S. pay to be present in the Philippines, in short distance from China. Duterte got difficult relations with the U.S. since he took office in 2016 and was more favorable to cooperate with China.

But Chinese ships entering the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone last March grew tensions between the two countries as China claims about 90% of the South China Sea.

China rejects an International Court Justice ruling from 2016 dismissing its claims on the maritime territory.

But on July 11, for the fifth anniversary of the ruling and similarly to the year before, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reaffirmed his country’s support to the Philippines under the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty from 1951.

The treaty dictates mutual support between both countries in the case of an attack from an external party.

Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea“, Secretary Blinken said in a written statement.  China “continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway“.

The reasons that led to restoring the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the U.S. were not officially disclosed.

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