Nov. 11 (UPI) -- The Philippines has decided to postpone the termination of a bilateral defense agreement with the United States, as tensions with Beijing remain unresolved in the South China Sea.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday Manila has been in communication with the Trump administration about extending the agreement to suspend the Philippines' withdrawal from the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippine Star and ABS-CBN News reported.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided the two countries should "find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in our mutual defense," Locsin said.
In February, the Philippines initiated the termination of the VFA. The notice of termination would have ended the pact, which allows for joint training, in August, but the Philippines suspended the termination in June "in light of political and other developments." The latest postponement means the VFA remains in effect until 69 days after June 1, 2021.
The Philippine decision to end the agreement came after the United States canceled Philippine Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's U.S. visa. The visa cancellation is believed to be linked to the politician's role in Manila's "war on drugs" while he was Philippine National Police chief, according to the Star.
The Philippines' decision to not move forward with VFA termination came after China's Coast Guard stepped up its patrol of Scarborough Shoal in May. Scarborough Shoal is claimed by Manila and Beijing. China has claimed almost all waters in the South China Sea under its "nine-dash line" policy.
In June, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the COVID-19 pandemic requires working together with other countries.
"We need to cooperate with other countries to fight the pandemic and I think the president thought that it's untimely to end the VFA at this moment," Lorenzana told CNN Philippines at the time.
The United States has been providing the Philippines equipment for quarantine facilities, according to reports.