Philippines tears up key military treaty with US

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Relations between two allies have reached a new low after Manila warned the US that it is ending an agreement that allows American troops to set foot on the Philippines soil.

Manila sent formal notice to the US embassy on Tuesday that it is terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). 

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was done in order to be independent from Washington in military affairs.

It’s about time we rely on ourselves, we will strengthen our own defenses and not rely on any other country.

Panelo told reporters that the nation is open to signing VFAs with other countries as long as they are “mutually beneficial, not one-sided.”

Signed in 1998, the VFA regulates the entry of US warships, aircraft and soldiers into the Philippines. It also allows US troops to be immune from prosecution by local authorities for some crimes committed on the Philippines soil.

The decision to end the VFA comes after the US canceled the visa of former Philippines police chief, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, last month, who the Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses of leading extrajudicial killings during Duterte’s drug war. Duterte himself has threatened to terminate the military cooperation agreement with the US if it does not reverse the visa cancellation.

The US and the Philippines have long remained strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific, as Washington often backed Manila in its diplomatic rows with Beijing over ship movements in the South China Sea.

However, relations between the states became rocky after Duterte assumed office in 2016. US officials have been criticizing Duterte’s campaign against powerful drug cartels and accused him of human rights abuses. The Philippines leader dismissed the attacks, saying that harsh measures are necessary to eradicate the drug-related organized crime that has been plaguing the country.