Philippines president does about-face on withdrawal from US military alliance

Rodrigo Duterte has been distancing country from long-time ally US and forging closer ties with China

FILE PHOTO: President Rodrigo Duterte speaks after his arrival, from a visit in Israel and Jordan at Davao International airport in Davao City in southern Philippines, September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr. - RC15F3EF3400/File Photo
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has suspended plans to pull out of a two-decade military pact with the US after political developments in the region, his foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Mr Duterte warned Washington in January that he would repeal the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows for US troops in the country, after the US denied entry to a Philippine senator.

The agreement, which is central to one of Washington’s most important alliances in Asia, was to be ended in August.

That would have been Mr Duterte’s biggest move yet towards delivering on long-standing threats to downgrade ties with Washington.

That stance alarmed some members of his administration who see the American military alliance as instrumental to Philippines security.

Mr Duterte's embrace of historic rival China has prompted opponents to accuse him of gambling with sovereignty in pursuit of huge investments that have not materialised.

The Visiting Forces Agreement, signed in 1998, gave legal status to thousands of US troops who were rotated in the country for military exercises and humanitarian operations.

Mr Duterte's decision to downgrade the alliance came after the US rescinded a visa for former police chief Senator Ronald dela Rosa, an early architect of the country’s violent crackdown on drugs.

The reason given for pulling out of the agreement was to allow the Philippines to diversify foreign relations.

Mr Duterte has argued that the presence of US forces makes the Philippines a potential target for foreign aggression.

The government said the decision to stay in the alliance was made "in light of political and other developments in the region".
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the decision was well received by the US.

“Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defence co-operation with the Philippines,” the US embassy in Manila said.