The Philippines on Tuesday officially informed the United States it was terminating a 21-year-old defence agreement, despite warnings it could undermine the country's security.
The notice of termination of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was received by the US Embassy in Manila, said Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
The VFA provides legal cover for the entry of US troops in the Philippines for joint training exercises with Filipino forces. The pact can be terminated through a written notice from either party, which would take effect in 180 days.
‘As a diplomatic courtesy there will be no further factual announcements following this self-explanatory development,’ Locsin said in a tweet.
President Rodrigo Duterte first threatened the termination after the US cancelled the tourist visa of Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, the former national police chief. Dela Rosa implemented Duterte's crackdown against illegal drugs, which has left more than 5,000 suspected drug users and pushers dead.
The US embassy said Washington would study the implications of the termination, while reiterating that America remained committed to cooperation with the Philippines, a former colony and long-time defence ally.
‘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.’ Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the move was a ‘consequence of a series of legislative and executive actions by the US government that bordered on assaulting our sovereignty and disrespecting our judicial system.’ ‘In addition, the president believes that our country can not forever rely on other countries for the defence of the state and should instead strengthen our own resources for our defences,’ Panelo said in a statement.
‘The president will not entertain any initiative coming from the US government to salvage the VFA, neither will he accept any official invitation to visit the United States,’ he added.
It was not clear why the US cancelled Dela Rosa's visa, but it is believed to be related to his role in Duterte's violent drugs crackdown.
US senators have also sought similar actions against all Filipino officials who had a role in the detention of Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of the president's campaign against illegal drugs.
Duterte has been a harsh critic of US policies since he became president in 2016, often accusing Washington of interfering in local affairs and imposing their custom and practices on other countries.
At one point since becoming president, he threatened to evict all American troops out of the country, but had always backed down from such threats in the past.
Last week, Foreign Minister Locsin warned that terminating the VFA would affect more than 300 joint training exercises, which help boost the capabilities of Philippine military and law enforcement agencies.
He noted that the abrogation may have a ‘chilling effect on economic relations.’ The US provided more than 500 million dollars in security assistance to the Philippines between 2016 and 2019.
US troops have also provided intelligence to Philippine forces in dealing with human trafficking, cyberattacks, illegal drugs and terrorism. The US military has also provided the Philippines assistance during disasters.
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