Philippine President Again Postpones Withdrawing Country From U.S. Defense Agreement

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte postponed his decision to withdraw from the defense agreement it has with the United States, the Associated Press reported.

The Philippines and the U.S. have an agreement that allowed U.S. troops to train alongside Philippine troops in large numbers in the Philippines. Duterte postponed the decision by six months so both sides have time to react to his concerns.

Duterte said he would withdraw the Philippines from the agreement if the U.S. did not pay.

"It's a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free," Duterte said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Vaccine Speech
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech as he witnesses the arrival of a shipment of Sinovac Biotech COVID-19 vaccines at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on February 28, 2021 in Manila, Philippines. The delivery marks the first time the Philippines received official coronavirus vaccines, the last country in ASEAN to do so. Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Duterte's administration notified the U.S. government in February last year that it intended to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Philippine troops and lays down the legal terms for their temporary stay.

The maneuvers involved thousands of American and Philippine military personnel in land, sea and air drills that often included live-fire exercises in pre-pandemic times.

The pact's termination would have taken effect after 180 days, but Duterte has repeatedly delayed the effectivity of his decision.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed the president's decision, which he said would give the two governments more time to review the pact.

"Our bilateral cooperation with the U.S. is geared toward upholding our national interest and, to the extent necessary, to enhance the Philippines' defense capability," Lorenzana said.

In December, he warned that he would proceed with the abrogation if the U.S. does not provide at least 20 million doses of vaccine.

"If they cannot deliver even a minimum of 20 million vaccine, they better get out. No vaccine, no stay here," Duterte said.

Critics hit Duterte for the remarks, which Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who heads the Senate committee on national defense and generally supports Duterte, said "may have given the impression that the Philippines is a nation of extortionists." Lacson said "one cannot put a price tag on the value" of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Duterte has often lashed out at U.S. security policies while nurturing relations with China and Russia. But his foreign and defense secretaries have cited the importance of the U.S. alliance.

The U.S. military presence in the region has been seen as a counterbalance to China, which has aggressively asserted claims to vast areas of the disputed South China Sea despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated their historic basis. China, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other governments have been locked in the territorial standoff for decades.

President Duterte 123rd Philippine Independence
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during the 123rd anniversary of the proclamation of the Philippine independence rites on Saturday, June 12, 2021, at the Provincial Capitol of Bulacan province, Philippines. Aaron Favila/Associated Press