Pemberton pardon a sign of improving PH-US relations -- int'l studies expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 8) -- The absolute pardon granted by President Rodrigo Duterte to US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton is one of the signs of the improving Philippines-United States relations, an international studies professor observes.

"It's clearing the air, trying to create a better situation for the two countries to interact and to stabilize the relationship that has been rocked by early pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte," said Renato de Castro, international studies professor at De La Salle University.

When Duterte assumed presidency in 2016, he pursued an "independent" foreign policy which is seen as a way for the Philippines to lessen its relations with US and to forge stronger ties with China and Russia.

Duterte also announced on February the Philippine government will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a protocol for American personnel in the country which contains controversial provisions like relaxed visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel if ever they commit crimes locally.

The VFA termination has been suspended in July "in light of the political and other developments in the region."

De Castro mentioned other signs of improving Manila-Washington ties under the Duterte administration, such as when Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. invoked the use of Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) if Philippine navy ships will be harassed by Chinese counterparts in the hotly-contested South China Sea.

MDT is an agreement signed by the Philippines and US in 1951 to strengthen the assistance between the two countries when either of them will be attacked by a foreign force.

"This is the first time that a ranking Duterte administration official invoked the MDT. President Duterte, at the start of his term, always showed that he was very skeptical that the United States will come to our assistance," De Castro told CNN Philippines' Rico Hizon.

The international studies professor also cited as a sign of improving US-Philippines ties the statement of new Armed Forces Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay during his confirmation hearing, where he assured the continued interaction of the Philippine military to their American counterparts.

De Castro added these signs will most likely alarm Beijing on the ties between Manila and Washington.