Duterte says ‘Bye-bye America’
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday threatened to terminate a pact that allows US troops to visit the Philippines, as he bid the country’s oldest military ally goodbye over an American agency’s decision to defer a major aid package over human rights concerns.
Mr. Duterte threatened to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after the Millennium Challenge Corp. earlier decided to withhold funding for antipoverty programs. Signed in 1998, the VFA accorded legal status to thousands of US troops who rotate in the country for military exercises and humanitarian assistance operations.
His latest tirade against the United States comes months after he said he wanted all foreign troops to leave the Philippines in two years.
“You know, America, you might also be put (on) notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines. Prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” President Duterte said in Davao City upon arriving from state visits to Cambodia and Singapore.
“So bye-bye America,” the 71-year-old self-confessed left-leaning politician stressed, adding that the country would now “work on the protocols that would eventually move you out of the Philippines.”
Mr. Duterte insisted that the country did not need American money, especially since China had promised to provide for the country. He said he was glad to be free from proving anything to Washington, which had earlier expressed concern over his antidrug war that has left over 5,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers dead.
But on Saturday night, President Duterte changed his tune, saying American troops could stay if the US government paid.
“You want to come back here? You pay us. You want bases here? Pay us,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech at the birthday party of Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
Mr. Duterte said the relationship between the allies can be purely business in nature.
“Let it be all about money between us,” he said.
The Millennium Challenge announced this week that it reached a decision to defer aid, after an initial five-year package worth more than $430 million expired in May.
The US government set up the facility to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world. Countries can only qualify if they “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom.”
“Tit for tat. If you can do this, so can we. It ain’t one-way traffic,” President Duterte said.
“I am putting them on notice. I will decide any day soon,” he stressed when asked when he would decide on the matter.
He suggested that US troops “start packing” and leave “maybe in six months or so.”
“We will not go hungry without the American aid. We are not that desperate,” he stressed, adding that funding shortfall could be covered if the country borrowed from China or Russia, Washington’s traditional rivals, which have embraced the tough-talking Filipino leader.
A state department spokesperson, Justin Higgins, said officials had seen Mr. Duterte’s statements, but the United States had “not received any official requests from Philippine officials to alter any of our many issues of bilateral cooperation.”
Mr. Duterte said he would have to take the cue from US President-elect Donald Trump, with whom he seemed to have hit it off, and not from outgoing President Barack Obama. He said Trump was very courteous when they spoke on the phone recently.
“In deference, I’ll just wait. I will let Obama fade away. If he disappears, then I will begin to reassess,” he said.
President Duterte seemed to suggest that relations could improve under Trump, and quoted the incoming US president as saying: “I like your mouth, it’s like mine, yes, Mr. President. We are similar and people with the same feathers flock together.”
He said he believed Obama may just be trying to get back at him because he had cursed at his administration.
President Duterte, a socialist who has said he admires the leadership styles of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, has clearly signaled he would lead the country away from the United States, even with a friendly Trump at the helm.
In an expletive laden rant, Mr. Duterte again criticized the US, accusing it of being hypocritical since it had colonized the Philippines for 50 years and took advantage of its resources.
He said the Americans killed so many Filipinos during the pacification campaign and referenced the Balangiga massacre more than a century ago. He said Americans “massacred all the male above 10” in the central Philippine town.
“Better shut up, you hypocrites,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM ALLAN NAWAL AND THE WIRES
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