Philippines' Duterte says Trump deserves to be re-elected

US President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb 14, 2020. Mr Trump has frequently expressed a desire to bring US military forces home from decades-long deployments abroad. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (REUTERS) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday (Feb 15) that Mr Donald Trump deserved to be re-elected, praising the US President's reaction to his decision to end a decades-old military agreement with the United States.

Mr Trump said on Wednesday he did not mind Mr Duterte's decision to end the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) even as his defence secretary, Mr Mark Esper, called the move "unfortunate" as Washington and its allies press China to abide by "international rules" in Asia.

"It is President Trump's circumspect and judicious reaction to the termination of the VFA that made President Duterte give the following remarks: 'President Trump is a good president and he deserves to be re-elected'," presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

The VFA is important to the overall US-Philippines alliance and sets out rules for US soldiers operating in the Philippines, a former US territory.

Washington has described the relationship between the two countries as "iron-clad", despite Mr Duterte's complaints that include allegations of US hypocrisy and ill-treatment.

Mr Trump has frequently expressed a desire to bring US military forces home from decades-long deployments abroad and has strong-armed some allies into paying more for the right to US defence.

He has said that the United States helped the Philippines defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.

In his comments about the VFA on Wednesday, Mr Trump added that he had "a very good" relationship with Mr Duterte.

Mr Duterte's decision, sparked by the revocation of a US visa held by a former police chief who led his bloody war on drugs, could complicate US military interests in the Asia-Pacific region as China's ambitions rise.

The firebrand leader, who favours closer ties with China and Russia, has said it was time for the Philippines to be militarily independent.

Some Philippine lawmakers hope that the VFA can be saved in the 180 days before the termination takes effect, and expressed concern that without it, two other US military agreements will become useless.

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