The U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will be amended and not terminated, Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Wednesday. The framework, which allows U.S. troops on Philippines soil and offers military interoperability, maritime security, maritime domain awareness, capacity building and economic benefits to the host nation, is expected to be signed Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
President Rodrigo Duterte has regularly threatened to end the 20-year-old VFA since February 2020, but in June rescinded the decision to abrogate the agreement. The VFA will be a topic of conversation when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Southeast Asian allies starting Friday, including the Philippines. The U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement is not being changed, the document will not be changed, but there will be some addendum, a side agreement.
The Philippines has been threatened by Chinese advances in the South China Sea, a crucial waterway and contested maritime territory. Chinese maritime militia, navy and coast guard ships have maintained a presence near the Philippines’ Kalayaan Island group in the West Philippine Sea. Rodrigo Duterte, who had been friendly to China and has been called a traitor by his critics, conceded that the Philippines are no longer in “physical control” of the West Philippine Sea.
The Duterte government moved to scuttle the VFA last year and informed Washington it was pulling out of the agreement, but it has since repeatedly extended its notice amid Manilla defense and military establishment pressure to maintain the pact. Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s statement indicated the VFA governing the presence and activities of American troops in the country will survive following repeated delays of its abrogation by the Duterte administration.