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Philippines' defense secretary seeks 'side agreement' to pact with U.S.

U.S. Marine Corps members attached to the USS New Orleans are pictured in June during drills in the Philippine Sea, exercises that are permitted by an agreement with the Philippines that is that is due for an extension. Photo by LCpl. Grace Geriach/U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine Corps members attached to the USS New Orleans are pictured in June during drills in the Philippine Sea, exercises that are permitted by an agreement with the Philippines that is that is due for an extension. Photo by LCpl. Grace Geriach/U.S. Marine Corps

July 21 (UPI) -- The U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement 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, USNI reported.

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Duterte has regularly threatened to end the 20-year-old VFA since February 2020, but in June rescinded the decision to abrogate the agreement.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 Manila Standard reported.

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"The VFA is not being changed, the document will not be changed, but there will be some addendum, [a] side agreement," Lorenzana said on Wednesday.

The Philippines has been threatened by Chinese advances in the South China Sea, a crucial waterway and contested maritime territory.

Additionally, Chinese maritime militia, navy and coast guard ships have maintained a presence near the Philippines' Kalayaan Island group and in the West Philippine Sea.

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On July 14, China claimed the United States was engaging in "intentional provocations" and harming peace and stability in the area.

The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington rejects China's "unlawful maritime claims" and added that the administration of President Joe Biden Biden "stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of [Chinese] coercion."

In February 2020, Duterte asked for increased payments from the United States to continue the relationship, but acknowledged the importance of the U.S. presence to restrain China.

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And in June 2021, he called for discussion of "concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement."

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