Philippine leader retains pact allowing US war exercises

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — The Philippines will keep having large-scale combat exercises with the United States (US) after President Rodrigo Duterte retracted his decision to terminate a key defence pact in a move that may antagonise China.

Duterte’s decision was announced on Friday by Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a joint news conference with visiting US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Manila.

It was a step back from the Philippine leader’s stunning vow early in his term to distance himself from Washington as he tried to rebuild frayed ties with China.

“The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Austin, referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement.

“There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track.”

Austin thanked Duterte for the decision, which he said would further bolster the two nations’ 70-year treaty alliance.

“Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crises to the pandemic and, as we do, a strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said.

“A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”

Terminating the pact would have been a major blow to America’s oldest alliance in Asia, as Washington squares with Beijing on a range of issues, including trade, and human rights.

United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin (L), and Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana shake hands after a bilateral meeting at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila. PHOTO: AP