On that day, the Philippine government, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, made an official communication to the United States cancelling the agreement that governs the status of U.S. forces in the Philippines. The broader context is that President Duterte has tried to create a greater distance between the Philippines and the United States – what he calls an “independent foreign policy.” Among the various elements of this approach are contact with Russia for closer relations and potential arms sales, as well as efforts to strengthen economic and diplomatic relations with China, even as the Philippines continues to address (with diminishing force) China`s intrusion into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea. Military cooperation between the United States and the Philippines continued under Duterte, despite his skepticism of bilateral relations. Joint activities and U.S. assistance include external defence, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. U.S. and Philippine forces participated in some 281 joint activities in 2019. In May 2019, the Philippine Navy participated in the first joint navigation across the South China Sea with the United States, Japan and India. The two sides are continuing preparations for balikatan 2020, the largest regular joint exercise between the United States and the Philippines, scheduled for May, involving nearly 11,000 U.S., Filipino and Australian troops. The VFA also provides for a reciprocal or contrary agreement, signed on 9 October 1998. This agreement applies to Filipino personnel temporarily sent to the United States.

The U.S. military operates in about 100 countries around the world through the Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA). Similarly, the VFA defines the rules, guidelines and legal status of the U.S. military when operating in the Philippines. The VFA also reaffirms the 1951 Mutual Defence Treaty and the 2014 Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement – agreements that allow the U.S. military to conduct joint exercises and operations in the Philippines. My research explains how the VFA itself is the product of past alliance conflicts. In 1991, a more nationalist Philippine Senate voted not to renew a reciprocal basing agreement. Their decision led to the closure of the Subic naval base and effectively forced the withdrawal of all American troops from the Philippines. However, in the mid-1990s, increased security problems in the South China Sea and the slow pace of modernization of Philippine forces led Manila to revive defence relations with Washington with the signing of the VFA in 1998. But in Duterte`s announcement, there is a glimmer of hope: according to the agreement, the official cancellation of the VFA will not take effect for 180 days, meaning that Washington and Manila as far as Aug.