In a move that should surprise no one, Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte has announced on Tuesday that he would scrap a security pact that allows American forces to train there without the usual visa or passport control.
Duterte has been very vocal about his anti-American feelings since being elected back in 2017, despite the United States aiding Filipinos in their ongoing insurgency against Islamist extremists.
This latest flap with Washington came when Philippines Foreign Secretary Teodoso Locsin Jr. announced that the country was unilaterally canceling the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), with the United States. The 1999 VFA pact exempts American military personnel from passport and visa regulations when arriving for joint exercises and training of troops in the Philippines.
The development comes after Washington’s decision last month to cancel the U.S. visa of Philippines Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who was the chief of the Philippine National Police. Rosa was implicated in extrajudicial killings during the brutal national “War on Drugs” at the time when Duterte took office. The State Department was following its own guidelines of denying visas to persons implicated in gross human rights violations.
When this happened, Duterte threatened to end the VFA unless the visa for Dela Rosa was immediately reinstated.
“It’s about time we rely on ourselves, we will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country,” said Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo during a regularly scheduled press conference.
He added that Manila would be open to similar agreements with other countries. “As long as it is favorable to us and there is a mutual benefit to both countries, we are open,” he said. The U.S. Embassy in Manila issued a statement on Tuesday calling Duterte’s move “a serious step with significant implications for the U.S.-Philippine alliance.”
“We will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests,” the statement read. Washington has 180 days to answer the announcement of VFA’s termination. Some diplomats consider it a bargaining chip by the Philippines for more and better concessions from Washington.
Locsin Jr. answered a quote on social media that read: “now the furious negotiations begin, 180-day countdown #VFA” by stating “you’re the only one who got that. Other reactions have been idiotic.” However, no one knows what concessions Duterte is hoping for. He has been adamant that he will not consider any requests by Washington to reinstate the VFA. He released a statement through Panelo saying that he “will not entertain” entreaties from the U.S. nor will he accept an invitation to visit the White House.
The U.S. and the Philippines have enjoyed a Mutual Defense Treaty since the 1950s and the United States has had bases in the country since the early 1900s when it was a U.S. protectorate. The Philippines were granted their independence in 1946.
But since taking office, Duterte has dialed up the anti-American rhetoric, stating that Washington treats Filipinos “like a dog on a leash,” despite the pleadings of his generals, who favor close cooperation and ties with the U.S., Duterte has openly courted closer ties with China and Russia.
He’s also claimed that the U.S. has performed clandestine activities inside the Philippines and accused Washington of storing nuclear weapons there. Duterte insisted on making this move despite a Senate hearing last week during which his defense and foreign ministers spoke in favor of the VFA, both noting its overall benefits to the Philippines.
Read more about the connection between American and Filipino SOF.