Making good on his earlier threat, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week announced the intended cancellation of the 21-year-old Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, a framework for the temporary entry of US troops to the Philippines for joint-training exercises with Filipino forces. The termination will take effect 180 days from the announcement last Tuesday. Mr Duterte’s spokesman says it is the President’s wish that the next to go will be the Mutual Defence Treaty, which has stood since 1951. For his part, US President Donald Trump appeared to be not too bothered with the development. He said that he is “fine” with the termination and that it would save Washington “a lot of money”.
Mr Duterte’s anti-US positions draw on multiple roots. To begin with, there are his revelations of unpleasant childhood memories at the hands of an American priest. There is also dismay that the US, as treaty ally, did nothing under President Barack Obama as China consolidated its grasp over the contested Scarborough Shoal. Despite better bonding between Mr Duterte and Mr Trump compared with Mr Obama, the Philippine leader is also annoyed that Mr Trump – despite his own muscular approach to issues at home and abroad – has not endorsed his violent war on drugs. Mr Duterte’s threats began after Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a former police chief who led the drug war at its peak, had his US visa cancelled.