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Philippines restores U.S. security pact after meeting with Pentagon chief

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (2-L) said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement during a meeting with officials in Manila on Friday. Photo by Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (2-L) said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to restore the Visiting Forces Agreement during a meeting with officials in Manila on Friday. Photo by Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE

July 30 (UPI) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to fully restore a key military pact with the United States more than a year after he threatened to end the U.S. security agreement.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Friday in a joint press briefing with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Manila that Duterte has reversed his decision to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippine Star reported.

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"Our countries face a range of challenges, from the climate crisis to the pandemic," Lorenzana said, according to Al Jazeera. "A fully restored VFA will help us achieve [goals] together."

Austin credited the Philippine leader for his decision to "fully restore" the agreement, according to the Star.

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The 1999 security pact allows thousands of U.S. troops to rotate in and out of the Philippines for military exercises and exempts them from passport and visa regulations.

The agreement could be of strategic importance for both countries as China increasingly asserts itself in the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Chinese militia vessels stayed anchored in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, drawing condemnations from Manila.

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Austin said Friday that the restoration of the agreement would allow both sides to "plan further in advance."

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"With that long-range planning, we can actually do more comprehensive exercises," Austin said.

Duterte's office said the president made his decision "based on upholding the Philippines' strategic core interests."

"The Philippines will, however, continue to engage other countries for partnerships that work, based on our core national interests," Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said Friday.

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Duterte threatened to end the pact in February 2020 after the United States denied a visa to Duterte's political ally, Philippine Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the former chief of the National Police, for his role in killing thousands of people amid a war on drugs.

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