Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is once again extending the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between his country and longtime ally the United States, months after a controversial decision to terminate it. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said on Wednesday that the joint military exercises would continue for another six months.
In a statement addressed to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Locsin said Duterte ordered the extension “to enable us to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense.”
The U.S. Embassy in Manila did not immediately return VICE News’ request for a comment.
The VFA is a mechanism in support of Manila and Washington’s Mutual Defense Treaty that allows U.S. troops to visit the Philippines for bilateral military training or mutual exercises.
Duterte had ordered the Philippines’ withdrawal from the two-decade-old agreement in February after the U.S. revoked the visa of former Philippine National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, who previously headed the controversial drug war. Duterte also previously said that he planned to “cut ties” with the U.S. to “align” with China and Russia instead.
Duterte later changed his mind, suspending the VFA termination in June, citing critical developments in the region, particularly in the South China Sea disputes.
Duterte once again extended the Philippines’ partnership with U.S. troops for another six months on Wednesday, just days after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was declared the presumptive winner of the U.S. elections. However, Locsin did not actually mention the election in his statement about the VFA, instead focusing on recent developments in the South China Sea.
“The past four years have changed the South China Sea from one of uncertainty about great powers’ intentions to one of predictability and resulting stability with regard to what can and cannot be done, what will and will not be acceptable with regard to the conduct of any protagonist in the South China Sea,” he said.
The Philippine government sees the VFA as an important strategy in defending its sovereignty and interest in the South China Sea, in the face of China’s aggressive expansionism. However, activists oppose the agreement, saying that it supports U.S. imperialist interests in the Philippines.