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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2020, file photo, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. gestures during a senate hearing in Manila, Philippines. The Philippines on Tuesday notified the United States of its intent to terminate a major security pact allowing American forces to train in the country in the most serious threat to the countries' treaty alliance under President Rodrigo Duterte. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines notified the United States on Tuesday that it would end a major security pact allowing American forces to train in the country, in the most serious threat under President Rodrigo Duterte to their 69-year treaty alliance.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet that Manila's notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement was received by the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The termination would take effect after 180 days unless both sides agree to keep it.

Locsin signed the notice on the order of Duterte, who has often criticized U.S. security policies while praising those of China and Russia despite the Philippine military's close historic ties with its American counterpart.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Tuesday in Brussels, that he only received notice of Duterte's order on Monday evening and had not yet fully digested the details. "I do think it would be a move in the wrong direction," he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Manila acknowledged receipt of Manila's notice and said Washington "will carefully consider how best to move forward to advance our shared interests. This is a serious step with significant implications for the U.S.-Philippines alliance," the embassy said in a statement.

In a Senate hearing last week, Locsin warned that abrogating the 1998 security accord with Washington would undermine Philippine security and foster aggression in the disputed South China Sea. U.S. military presence in the strategic waterway has been seen as a crucial counterweight to China, which claims virtually the entire sea.

Locsin proposed a review of the agreement to fix contentious issues, including criminal jurisdiction over erring American troops, instead of abrogating it. Philippine defense and military officials did not immediately issue any reaction to the government move.

Duterte threatened to terminate the security agreement after Washington reportedly canceled the U.S. visa of a loyal ally, Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who was linked to human-rights violations when he first enforced the president's deadly anti-drug crackdown as the national police chief in 2016.

Thousands of suspects have been killed under the campaign Duterte launched when he took office in mid-2016, alarming the U.S. and other Western governments and human-rights watchdogs.

Duterte gave the U.S. a month to restore dela Rosa's visa, but U.S. officials have not publicly reacted to the Philippine leader's demand.

Duterte said in a speech late Monday that President Donald Trump has moved to save the agreement but added that he rejected the idea. He accused the U.S. of meddling in Philippine affairs, including seeking the release of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima, whom he has accused of involvement in illegal drugs. She has dismissed the allegation as a fabricated charge meant to muzzle dissent.

"America is very rude. They are so rude," Duterte said.

Locsin outlined in the Senate hearing what he said were the crucial security, trade and economic benefits the accord provides. The U.S. is a longtime treaty ally, a major trading partner and the largest development aid provider to the Philippines.

The accord legally allows the entry of large numbers of American forces along with U.S. military ships and aircraft for joint training with Filipino troops. It specifies which country will have jurisdiction over American soldiers and who may be accused of crimes while in the Philippines.

A separate defense pact subsequently signed by the allies in 2014, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, allows the extended stay of U.S. forces and authorizes them to build and maintain barracks and warehouses and store defense equipment and weapons inside five designated Philippine military camps.

"All the engagements, all the freedom of navigation operations, all the exercises, all the joint training, having U.S. military personnel in port, on the ground, on the flight line, does require that we have a mechanism that allows that," U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary R. Clarke Cooper said in a telephone news conference Monday. "That's why the VFA is so important."

The U.S. provided more than $550 million in security assistance to the Philippines from 2016 to 2019, Locsin said, adding that there may be a "chilling effect on our economic relations" if the Philippines draws down its security alliance with Washington.

Information for this article was contributed by Robert Burns of The Associated Press.

A Section on 02/12/2020

Print Headline: Ending pact, Philippines tells U.S.

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