Filipino activists protest against the presence of Chinese vessels in the South China Sea at the Chinese embassy in Makati City, the Philippines on April 9, 2019 [File: Reuters/Eloisa Lopez]
“In this venue, your honours, I announce my separation from the United States,” thundered Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during his historic visit to China in 2016. At the time, few, including members of his inner circle, took the remarks seriously, never mind literally.
In mid-February, however, Duterte effectively ended the country’s century-old alliance with the US by unilaterally abrogating the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a linchpin of security cooperation in recent decades. As one top Filipino official put it, without the VFA the Philippines’s alliance with the world’s superpower is “practically useless”.
Duterte’s latest move, which was prompted by growing