On 11 February, exactly one year after Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte announced his intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, both sides began talks to salvage the troop deal. The VFA—in place since 1998—allows American troops to be stationed in the Philippines and is key to implementing the mutual defence treaty signed by the two Pacific allies in 1951. Duterte, a fierce critic of past American colonial rule over the Philippine archipelago, aimed to reduce its influence; yet concerns over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea have brought Manila to the negotiating table.
The new administration of Joe Biden, looking to reinforce American military presence in the Indo-Pacific as a counter to China, has reassured the Philippines of its commitment to their bilateral security alliance. Yet Duterte, speaking the day after talks began at Clark Air Base in Luzon—once a vital American staging post in the region—said the United States should “pay” to renegotiate the VFA. This apparently referred to American military aid for Philippine forces, with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarifying “to continue using our territory, we want just compensation…not loose coins, not dilapidated equipment.”