The Philippines will suspend its earlier move to abrogate the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, which allows U.S. and Philippine troops to train together and conduct counterterrorism missions, its foreign secretary said Tuesday.
"The abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement has been suspended upon the President's instruction," Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter, without elaborating as to the reason for the reversal.
However, he also posted an official notice sent by his ministry to the U.S. Embassy saying the decision was taken "in light of political and other developments in the region."
The U.S. Embassy, in a statement, welcomed the Philippine government's decision, saying, "Our long-standing alliance has benefited both countries, and we look forward to continued close security and defense cooperation with the Philippines."
On Feb. 11, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte notified the United States of its intent to end, within 180 days, the 1998 arrangement that allows the U.S. military to use Philippine bases and preposition its assets in the Southeast Asian country.
The agreement also sets the jurisdiction and procedures in regard to any U.S. military and civilian personnel committing a crime in the Philippines, as well as visa and passport requirements.
The notification to end the agreement, which is separate from the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, came after Duterte was peeved at the U.S. revocation of the visa of his former police chief, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, one of his key allies.
It was purportedly due to dela Rosa's role in the government's anti-drug campaign, which was marred by numerous allegations of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations.
Duterte has sought to create greater distance between the Philippines and the United States by developing stronger economic and diplomatic ties with countries like China.
Foreign affairs expert Richard Heydarian said that the alliance with the United States has never been more important to the Philippines amid rising uncertainties such as China's encroachment of its exclusive economic zone in the South China and the coronavirus pandemic.
"All of these elements put together show that the post-COVID-19 strategic environment is extremely volatile, and the last thing the Philippine needs is further uncertainty," Heydarian told Kyodo News.