MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the retraction of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Friday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the announcement after Duterte met with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in Malacañang on Thursday.
“The President decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana said during a press briefing with Austin.
The VFA came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines.
The pact also includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.
Duterte last year ordered the abrogation of the VFA, which is anchored in the PH-US 1951 defense treaty.
The termination of the pact, however, was suspended citing the coronavirus pandemic and the relevant developments in the region.
Austin, for his part, welcomed Duterte’s decision to “fully restore the VFA.”
“A strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. A fully restored VFA will help up achieve that goals together,” Austin said.
In a separate statement, Malacañang said the Philippines and the United States made a renewed commitment to strengthen their partnership in various areas of mutual interest.
The Palace said Duterte and Austin had “an open and frank discussion” on the status and future direction of Philippines-US engagement during a 75-minute courtesy call of the US defense secretary on the President.
“They agreed that the alliance can be further strengthened through enhanced communication and greater cooperation, particularly in the areas of pandemic response, combating transnational crimes, including the war on illegal drugs, maritime domain awareness, the rule of law, and trade and investments,” the statement read.
US Defense chief Austin is on an official visit to Southeast Asia that includes stops in Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. The visit aims to bolster the US’ ties with the said nations.
His visit coincides with the commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of the US and the Philippines and the 70th Anniversary of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty this year.