MANILA (Reuters) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday terminated a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States (VFA) delivering on threats to downgrade an alliance crucial to U.S. interests.
Duterte, who has clashed with the former colonial ruler over several issues, has decided to pull the plug on the two-decade troop rotation pact to enable the Philippines to be more independent with its relations with other countries, spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
"The president will not entertain any initiative coming from the U.S. government to salvage the VFA, neither will he accept any official invitation to visit the United States,” Panelo said in a statement.
The decision, sparked by the revocation of a U.S. visa held by the former police chief who led Duterte’s war on drugs, could complicate U.S. military interests in the Asia-Pacific as China’s ambitions rise.
Panelo said Duterte’s decision was a consequence of U.S. legislative and executive actions that "bordered on assaulting our sovereignty and disrespecting our judicial system”.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet that Manila’s notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement was received by the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Manila. The termination would take effect after 180 days unless both sides agree to keep it.
Locsin signed the notice on the order of Duterte, who has often criticized U.S. security policies while praising those of China and Russia despite the Philippine military’s close historic ties with its American counterpart.
The U.S. embassy in Manila called it "a serious step with significant implications”.
The defense pact sets out rules for U.S. soldiers to operate in the Philippines and is one of three governing what Washington has called
an "ironclad” relationship, despite Duterte’s tirades about U.S. hypocrisy, ill-treatment and aging weapons.
Duterte says the United States uses the pacts to conduct clandestine activities like spying and nuclear weapons stockpiling, which he says risk a confrontation between the Philippines and China.
Philippine nationalists say the United States did nothing to stop China building islands in the South China Sea equipped with missiles, and say the VFA is lopsidedly favorable to Americans, including the granting of immunity from prosecution for U.S. servicemen.
Duterte, who favors closer ties with China and Russia, pressed ahead with the termination after a Senate hearing on the VFA last week.
Ending the VFA could be a blow to Washington’s interests in maintaining a troop presence in the Asia-Pacific, amid friction over the presence of U.S. personnel in Japan and South Korea and regional security concerns about China and North Korea.