Philippines extends termination process of U.S. troop deal, eyes long-term defence pact

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has suspended its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States for a second time as the allies work on a long-term mutual defence arrangement, Manila’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The new deadline will reach the early days of President-elect Joe Biden’s term.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the extra six months “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,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a statement.

“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,” Locsin said.

The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States with several military agreements dependent on the VFA, which provides the legal framework for which Washington’s troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Southeast Asian nation.

Duterte had notified Washington in February that he was cancelling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a U.S. visa.

The initial six-month suspension of the Philippines’ abrogation of the VFA would expire in December.

Since taking the presidency in 2016, Duterte has fostered warmer ties with Beijing, shelving a territorial spat over the South China Sea, while setting aside traditional partners like the United States and Europe.

But much of China’s pledges of billions of dollars of loans, aid and investment have yet to reach the Philippines.

The U.S. embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty and Philippa Fletcher)