On July 30, 2021, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte restored the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, a 1998 critical security pact that lays out the terms and conditions on the entry and visit of US military troops for military exercises and other approved activities in the Philippines. For one, it allows American forces to enter the Philippines sans passport and visa to allow them to participate in joint military drills in the host country. The VFA makes possible the conduct of more than 300 annual bilateral engagements with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, from expert exchanges to ship visits, to component exercises and major training exercises.
It can be recalled that President Duterte ordered the VFA’s revocation in February 2020 but it kept getting extended. According to Philippine Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, President Duterte’s decision to discontinue the abrogation of VFA is based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interests, the clear definition of Philippine-US alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), a 1951 treaty that aims to step up the defense and security cooperation between US and Philippine troops.
Also, US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires in the Philippines, John Law, confirmed that the US has approved the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets and missiles to the Philippines.
The Philippines is continuing its push for the military’s modernization, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now transitioning from Horizon 1 to Horizon 2 of its modernization program, and has allocated PHP 600 billion (USD 11.9 billion) for its next phase. (The AFP Modernization Program has three horizons – Horizon 1 which started in 2013 and ended in 2017, Horizon 2 from 2018 to 2022, and Horizon 3 from 2023 to 2028.)
Some 107 projects have been completed under Horizon 1. The equipment delivered for Horizon 1 includes six A-29B Super Tucano close-air support aircraft, S-70i Black Hawk helicopters, of which 10 are already delivered and five more due for delivery in 2021, and the two brand-new missile frigates BRP Jose Rizal and BRP Antonio Luna. Also in various stages of completion are the force protection equipment of the Philippine Army.
(Source: Philippines News Agency)