(MNS Photo)

MANILA, July 31 (Mabuhay) — The United States on Friday welcomed the Philippine government’s decision to renew a key security pact with Washington, saying the accord is crucial in maintaining a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

President Rodrigo Duterte conveyed to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a meeting in Manila on Thursday night his decision to recall the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows US troops to enter the country to conduct war games, training and other exercises with Filipino counterparts.

“We strongly believe that the VFA, and the broader alliance that the VFA enables, strengthens not only the security of our two nations, but also the rules-based order that benefits all nations in the Indo-Pacific,” a US Embassy statement said.

“The United States welcomes President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to recall the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)”

Austin, who is on a three-nation Asian swing that includes the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, noted that 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 us achieve that goal together,” he said in a statement.

In a most serious threat to Manila’s 69-year-old alliance with Washington, Duterte last year ordered the abrogation of the VFA after the US, a long-time Philippine defense and treaty ally, revoked the visa of his close aide and former police chief now senator Ronald Dela Rosa.

US officials did not cite a specific reason why Dela Rosa’s visa was cancelled, but many speculated it was due to his involvement in Duterte’s violent war on drugs.

Manila sent an official letter of termination of the VFA to the US on Feb. 11, 2020.

Then in November 2020, Duterte suspended the abrogation of the agreement amid lingering tensions with China in the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte, a vocal critic of the US, has cultivated closer ties with China and Russia while often criticizing US policies and lambasting American criticisms of his administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

The VFA is an implementation of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty forged by the US and the Philippines as security partners after World War II. It is a framework agreement that covers the treatment and presence of American forces in the country with or without war games.  (MNS)

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