MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given formal notice to the United States of his decision to scrap a bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), officials said on Tuesday, following through on repeated threat to downgrade the defence alliance.
The mercurial Duterte, who has made no secret of his grudge with the United States and his disdain for his country's close military relationship, believed it was time to be more militarily independent, his spokesman said.
"It's about time we rely on ourselves, we will strengthen our own defences and not rely on any other country," Salvador Panelo told a regular briefing, quoting Duterte.
Defence ties between the Philippines and former colonial ruler the United States go back to the early 1950s and are governed by a Mutual Defence Treaty (MTD), which remains intact, along with an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) made under the Obama administration.
Duterte made the decision after the top commander of his war on drugs, former police chief Ronald dela Rosa, said his U.S. visa had been rescinded over an issue related to the detention of a senator and top critic of Duterte.
The VFA, signed in 1998, accords legal status to thousands of U.S. troops rotated in the country for humanitarian assistance and military exercises, dozens of which take place annually.
It is the first time Duterte has scrapped an agreement with the United States, having throughout his more than three years in office denounced Washington for hypocrisy and for treating the Philippines "like a dog on a leash".
Despite reassurances from his generals, Duterte has long accused U.S. forces of conducting clandestine activities. In a rambling speech on Monday he said U.S. nuclear weapons were being stored in his country.
He has argued that the presence of U.S. forces makes the Philippines a potential target for aggression.
Duterte's move follows a Senate hearing last week during which his defence and foreign ministers spoke in favour of the VFA, both noting its overall benefits.
Duterte said even U.S. President Donald Trump wanted him to change his mind. "Trump, and others are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement. I said I don't want," he said.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin on Twitter confirmed that the United States embassy in Manila had received notice. The termination takes effect 180 days from one side giving notice.
Duterte favours warmer ties with China and Russia than the United States and has praised those countries and inflated their military contributions and donations, which are dwarfed by the $1.3 billion spent provided by the United States since 1998.