Philippines to end USA troops agreement

Filipino troops and U.S. veterans pose for a selfie during the “Freedom Trail March” to commemorate the World War II “Bataan Death March,” in Capas Philippines

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says dissolving the bilateral agreement with the Philippines that covers visiting U.S. military forces there "would be a move in the wrong direction".

The Philippines has notified the United States that it will terminate a security pact that allows American forces to train in the country.

The VFA was signed in 1999 and allows USA and Filippino troops to carry out joint exercises in the Philippines, as well as guaranteeing passage for U.S. military ships and aircraft. We have to work through the policy angles, the military angles. "We have to digest it", Esper told reporters on route to a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation conference in Brussels. This, however, was referred to as "fake news" by fellow cabinet official, Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

The Philippines may find it hard to access millions of dollars in military aid, and trade relations may also be hurt once the pact is terminated, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said last week.

One of the implications of the VFA termination, Reyes noted, is that United States soldiers accused of committing crimes will now "be immediately placed under Philippine jurisdiction and detained in Philippine facilities".

Panelo said the President has not talked to Trump recently and that his information may have come from "emissaries" in the US Embassy.

The United States government is studying the best course of action as the Philippines moved to scrap the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement.

Still, the Philippines is hoping for even warmer ties with the U.S., a long-standing ally, Panelo said.

Last month President Rodrigo Duterte warned that he would cancel the agreement after the United States revoked a travel visa issued to a political ally.

Duterte, who favours closer ties with China and Russian Federation, pressed ahead with the termination despite a Senate hearing on the VFA last week during which his senior generals and defence and foreign ministers spoke in favour of it. As you know it's tied to some other issues.

"Secretary Lorenzana said that the President has not given any instruction to Secretary Locsin to undertake steps on the termination yet. I don't get too excited about these things".

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Aside from threatening to end the VFA, Duterte has said he will ban some critical US senators from entering the Philippines.

"We remain committed to the friendship between our two peoples", the Embassy said in the three-paragraph statement.

The US said the move would have significant implications for the two country's relations. Besides the VFA, it also has a Mutual Defense Treaty with the US that dates back to the 1950s.

Washington does not appear eager to complicate its military presence in this part of the world, as the Philippines remains one of the few places in the Indo-Pacific region where the USA has these types of VFA and SOFA agreements.

It would also limit Philippine access to US training and expertise in tackling Islamist extremism, natural disasters and maritime security threats.

FILE - A USA fighter jet takes off from the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to patrol the global waters off the South China Sea, Aug. 6, 2019.

While we have heard a series of threats from Duterte since he took office, the Duterte administration's notice of termination with respect to the VFA constitutes the biggest actual threat to the U.S.

"I don't envisage a total breakoff in bilateral military relations, given that the MDT remains intact", Koh said.

But Manila has also largely benefited from the military cooperation with Washington, Locsin earlier said, as the country has received $550 million in security assistance from the United States over the last four years. "They are so rude", he said.

Since the visa issue surfaced, Duterte has barred his cabinet from going to the U.S. and has turned down Trump's invitation to a southeast asian summit set for March in Las Vegas.

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