President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to retract the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Malacañang announced on Friday.

The VFA allows American soldiers to participate in military exercises in the country.

The Philippines was set to revoke the VFA in February 2020 but Duterte suspended its abrogation in June and November last year, and again in June this year.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte’s retention of the VFA was a sign of the country’s alliance with the US.

“[Duterte’s] decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on upholding PH strategic core interests, the clear definition of PH-US alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under MDT (mutual defense treaty),” Roque said in a statement.

“[The Philippines] will, however, continue to engage other countries for partnerships that work, based on our core national interests,” he added.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Philippines-US mutual defense treaty.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who Duterte met Thursday, welcomed the decision of the Philippine president.

“We thank the President for his decision to fully restore the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Austin said.

“A. strong, resilient US-Philippine alliance will remain vital to the security, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. A fully restored VFA will help us achieve that goal together,” he added.

“I concur. Good move!” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chair of the Senate’s national defense committee, said the abrogation of the VFA would have weakened the country’s defense.

“That’s the way to do it. It goes without saying, I fully support the president’s decision in this regard. Termination of the VFA will do our country’s security situation more harm than good, especially at this time when incursions into our territories in the (West Philippine Sea) have become more aggressive and unabated,” Lacson said. John Ezekiel J. Hirro