Philippine leader retains pact allowing US war exercises

Jul 29, 2021, 8:19 PM | Updated: Jul 30, 2021, 1:48 am
United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenz...

United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana shake hands after a bilateral meeting at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines Friday, July 30, 2021. Austin is visiting Manila to hold talks with Philippine officials to boost defense ties and possibly discuss the The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and Philippines. (Rolex dela Pena/Pool Photo via AP)

(Rolex dela Pena/Pool Photo via AP)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines will keep having large-scale combat exercises with the United States after President Rodrigo Duterte retracted his decision to terminate a key defense pact in a move that may antagonize an increasingly belligerent China.

Duterte’s decision was announced Friday by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a joint news conference with visiting U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin in Manila. It was a step back from the Philippine leader’s stunning vow early in his term to distance himself from Washington as he tried to rebuild frayed ties with China over years of territorial rifts in the South China Sea.

“The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Austin, referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement. “There is no termination letter pending and we are back on track.”

Austin thanked Duterte for the decision, which he said would further bolster the two nations’ 70-year treaty alliance.

“Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crises to the pandemic and, as we do, a strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific,” Austin said. “A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together.”

Terminating the pact would have been a major blow to America’s oldest alliance in Asia, as Washington squares with Beijing on a range of issues, including trade, human rights and China’s behavior in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

The U.S. military presence in the region is seen as a counterbalance to China, which has used force to assert claims to vast areas of the disputed South China Sea, including the construction of artificial islands equipped with airstrips and military installations. China has ignored and continues to defy a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its historic basis.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other governments have been locked in the territorial standoff for decades. The U.S. doesn’t lay any claim to the busy waterway and has sailed Navy warships close to Chinese-claimed islands on so-called freedom of navigation operations in a challenge to Beijing.

Beijing has warned Washington to stay away from what it describes as a purely Asian dispute.

In a speech in Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said that Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea “has no basis in international law” and “treads on the sovereignty of states in the region.” He said the U.S. supports the region’s coastal states in upholding their rights under international law, and is committed to its defense treaty obligations with Japan and the Philippines.

Duterte notified the U.S. government in February last year that the Philippines intended to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows large numbers of American forces to join combat training with Philippine troops and sets legal terms for their temporary stay.

The pact’s termination would have taken effect after 180 days, but Duterte has repeatedly delayed the decision. While it was pending, the U.S. and Philippine militaries proceeded with plans for combat and disaster-response exercises but canceled larger drills last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. and Philippine forces engage in about 300 activities each year, including the Balikatan, or shoulder-to-shoulder, exercises, which involve thousands of troops in land, sea and air drills that often included live fire. They’ve sparked Chinese protests when they were held on the periphery of the sea Beijing claims as its own.

The Balikatan exercises resumed last April but were considerably scaled down due to continuing COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdowns.

A Philippine military official told The Associated Press that the U.S. continued to provide intelligence and satellite and aircraft surveillance photos of Chinese activities in the South China Sea despite Duterte’s earlier threat to abrogate the VFA. The U.S. images have helped the Philippines to become aware of encroachments and lodge diplomatic protests, said the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to speak publicly.

Lorenzana said he was unaware of the reason behind Duterte’s change of heart. The brash-talking president, who has been under intense pressure to contain one of Southeast Asia’s worst outbreaks, warned in December that he would proceed to abrogate the VFA if the U.S. did not provide at least 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

“No vaccine, no stay here,” Duterte said then in blunt remarks that one Filipino senator said “may have given the impression that the Philippines is a nation of extortionists.”

The Philippines recently received at least 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing program, and has been assured of more American aid. President Joe Biden has said America’s vaccines were being donated to poorer countries to save lives and “don’t include pressure for favors or potential concessions.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Norfolk Southern locomotives work in the in the Conway Terminal on Sept. 15, 2022, in Conway...
Associated Press

Rail union that rejected deal signs new tentative agreement

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A union that rejected its deal with the nation’s freight railroads earlier this month now has a new tentative agreement, but officials cautioned that the contract dispute won’t be fully settled until all 12 rail unions approve their agreements this fall. The five-year deal announced Tuesday includes a 24% pay raise […]
13 hours ago
Attorney Alexandra Benevento, center, speaks with reporters during a news conference announcing a c...
Associated Press

Auto Draft

Follow @ktar923
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Prosecutor seeks 3rd trial for Kansas woman in 2 killings

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas prosecutor has indicated that he intends to try a woman for the third time in the killings of her ex-husband and his girlfriend two decades ago. Dana Chandler is accused of killing 47-year-old Mike Sisco and his fiancee, 53-year-old Karen Harkness, in 2002 in Topeka. Chandler’s second trial on […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for November delivery rose $1.79 to $78.50 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude for November delivery rose $2.21 to $86.27 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline for October delivery rose 11 cents to $2.49 a gallon. October heating oil rose 13 cents to $3.26 a gallon. October natural gas fell 25 cents to $6.65 […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Woman hit by train while in police car is out of hospital

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) — A 20-year-old woman who was seriously injured when the parked police patrol vehicle she was detained in was struck by a freight train in northern Colorado has been released from the hospital. Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, of Greeley, is recovering at home with nine broken ribs, a broken arm, a fractured sternum and […]
13 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.

Sponsored Articles

...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Philippine leader retains pact allowing US war exercises