Philippines suspends abrogation of defence pact with US

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — The Philippine president has suspended his decision to terminate a key defence pact with the United States (US), at least temporarily avoiding a major blow to one of America’s oldest alliances in Asia.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said on Tuesday he dispatched a diplomatic note to the US ambassador in Manila informing the US government that the Philippines is delaying its decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement by at least six months.

Washington immediately welcomed the move.

“Our longstanding alliance has benefitted both countries,” the US government said in a statement released by its embassy in Manila. “We look forward to continued close security and defence cooperation with the Philippines.”

President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration notified the US government on February 11 that it intends to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Filipino troops and lays down the legal terms for their temporary stay.

File photo shows Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr gesturing during a senate hearing in Manila, Philippines. PHOTO: AP

The termination would have taken effect after 180 days, in August, unless both sides agreed to keep the agreement.

The waiting time will be suspended by at least six months and could be extended by another half a year, according to the diplomatic letter to the US, which cited unspecified “political and other developments in the region”.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez told The Associated Press by telephone that he and his American counterpart, Sung Kim, helped discuss what could be done after the coronavirus pandemic hit and hampered possible talks ahead of the agreement’s actual abrogation in August.

“We both were concerned about the deadline for the termination which was coming close,” Romualdez said.

US President Donald Trump’s expression of readiness to help the Philippines deal with the pandemic during a telephone call with Duterte in April fostered the Philippine decision, Romualdez said.

Key Duterte officials led by Locsin have cited the security and economic benefits the allies have gained from the treaty alliance.

Duterte has defended his decision to abrogate the pact with the US, saying the Philippines can survive and address a long-running communist insurgency and threats by extremists without American military assistance.

“Do we need America to survive as a nation?” Duterte asked in February. “Do we need … the might and power of the military of the US to fight our rebellion here and the terrorists down south and control drugs?

“The (Philippine) military and police said, ‘Sir, we can do it’,” Duterte said.