The move was ordered by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has feuded with U.S. officials over multiple issues. File photo by Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE
Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The government of the Philippines said Tuesday it has notified the United States it's unilaterally terminating a 22-year-old agreement governing American military personnel in the Asian nation.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro Locsin said he's notified the U.S. Embassy in Manila that the Philippines is exercising its option to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, marking the start of the 180-day interim period before the pact will be effectively ended.
The VFA, signed in 1998, provides relaxed visa and passport policies for U.S. military personnel in the Philippines, as well as free entry for American military aircraft and vessels. It also stipulates that Manila has jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel accused of crimes there, while Washington has jurisdiction involving crimes committed against Americans.
The agreement is seen as an adjunct to the mutual defense treaty between the United States and its former colony, which guarantees they will provide military aid to each other in case of an attack by foreign forces.
The move was ordered by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who's been feuding with the U.S. government over a law banning U.S. entry to Filipino officials deemed to be involved in the imprisonment of Sen. Leila de Lima, a staunch Duterte critic detained since 2017 over supposed involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Also at issue is U.S. treatment of Philippines Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the nation's former national police chief.
Duterte threatened last month to scrap the VFA unless the United States reversed its cancellation of a travel visa for dela Rosa, a leader in Duterte's fight against drugs. Human rights advocates have accused him of leading a brutal "anti-drug campaign" in which 27,000 people have died, with many shot and killed in summary executions.
Duterte insists there have been no extrajudicial killings and said the deaths were justified by efforts to stop the illegal drug trade.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters Duterte believes it's time for the Philippines to "rely on our own resources" and to "strengthen our own capability relative to the defense of our land."