Duterte says US will ‘have to pay’ to keep VFA
If the United States wants to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, it will “have to pay” because the country faces grave risks should hostilities break out between the United States and China, President Duterte said on Friday.
“I’d like to put on notice if there’s an American agent here. From now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done, you have to pay. It’s a shared responsibility but your share of responsibility does not come free because, after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay,” Mr. Duterte said at Clark, Pampanga province, where he inspected the newly acquired aircraft of the Philippine Air Force.
The President did not say what kind of payment he meant, but he made the remark a day after Philippine and US officials began closed-door talks on security cooperation.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a retired general who once served as a defense attaché in Washington, said he was hoping that the Balikatan joint military exercises—a component of the VFA—would resume this May.
Mr. Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA last year and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had already served a notice of termination on Washington. The President, however, has since suspended the termination twice, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions.” The second period of suspension is supposed to lapse in August.
In the event of hostilities, Mr. Duterte said, the Philippines would be the “nearest possible and convenient outpost” for American forces, which also have 15 military bases in South Korea and 23 in Japan.
But he said he wouldn’t want the country to be dragged into another war not of its making nor in its interest to fight.
The President has repeatedly said that he wanted an independent foreign policy and that the Philippines should remain neutral in superpower politics, but acknowledged that “the exigency of the moment requires [US] presence here.”
In exchange for vaccines
In December, Mr. Duterte said he would push through with the termination of the VFA unless Washington provides the Philippines with vaccines against the new coronavirus.
“If they are not able to deliver a minimum of 20 million vaccines, they better get out. No vaccine, no stay here,” he said then.
The President had also repeatedly brought up historical grievances against the United States since he assumed power.
On Friday, he said he was asking much of the United States “because they have taken so much from us.”
According to him, Washington has reneged on its promises to the country, particularly regarding assistance in terms of materiel, which he said could have prevented the crisis in the South China Sea from developing in 2012.
“In the past, we ordered so much from them and so much [was] not delivered at all,” he said.
He recalled telling then US President Donald Trump about these unfulfilled promises, citing the country’s urgent need for guided rockets. “‘We have been asking for it and, as a matter of fact, we are willing to pay for it, Mr. President, but until now, it’s still in the air,’” he said, recounting his statement to Trump.
He said the weapons were eventually delivered shortly after his talk with Trump, but that he was not expecting something similar to happen under the administration of new US President Joe Biden. “It’s different when it is a Republican and a Democrat,” he said.
Mr. Duterte reiterated that the Philippines remains friends with both the United States and China, but that “I’m walking on a tightrope, actually.’’
“I cannot afford to be brave in words against China because we are avoiding any confrontation, a confrontation that could lead to something we can hardly afford, at least not at this time,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.