MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Philippines says it has fully restored a major security agreement with the United States, with President Rodrigo Duterte retracting his intention to terminate the Philippines-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) late Thursday.
Filipino Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana told reporters at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday that Duterte, after his meeting with Austin, retracted the VFA termination letter sent to the U.S. last year.
"This provides us some degree of certainty going forward, so we can plan further in advance," Austin told reporters. "And with that long-range planning, we can actually do more comprehensive exercises."
Secretary Lorenzana said he was unsure why Duterte had reversed the decision, but he welcomed the president's move.
The 1998 agreement provides legal permission for thousands of U.S. troops who rotate into the Philippines for dozens of military and humanitarian assistance exercises each year.
Duterte gave formal notice to the United States of his decision to scrap the VFA in February 2020 after repeated threats to downgrade the two countries' military alliance. He later extended the VFA until December 2021.
At the time of the termination notice, Duterte had indicated that he favored relations with China and Russia over ties with the U.S. His spokesperson said the reason for terminating the VFA was to allow the Philippines military to be more independent.
Analysts say access to the Philippines puts the U.S. in a position to rapidly respond to threats from China in the South China Sea. They say it also bolsters U.S. counterterror and intelligence gathering in the region.