‘Pay-for-VFA’ not extortion: Palace scoffs at ‘small change’ from US compared to funding for Pakistan
MANILA, Philippines — Demanding the United States to pay to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is “not extortion” since their payment can be used in the country’s Covid-19 response and other government services, Malacañang said Monday.
“Sa mga nagsasabing extortion, hindi po yan extortion. ‘Yan po ay isang pagtaguyod ng pang-nasyonal na interes ng mga Pilipino at dahil marami po tayong gastusin lalong lalo na sa Covid-19, bakit hindi tayo sumingil?” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online Palace briefing.
(To those who are saying this is extortion, it’s not. This is pushing for the national interest of Filipinos and since there are a lot of expenses to address Covid-19, why can’t we ask for payment?)
“Nang sa ganun, yung perang makukuha natin, magamit natin para sa Covid response, para sa libreng pakain ng mga estudyante, para sa Universal Health Care,” he added.
(This way, the money we will get will be used for Covid response, for feeding programs for students and for the Universal Health Care.)
President Rodrigo Duterte, in a speech last week, demanded the US to pay if it wants to keep its VFA with the Philippines.
Vice President Leni Robredo likened Duterte’s remark to “extortion,” suggesting that disadvantages of the VFA be laid out to explain why the Philippines want to abrogate the agreement.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, sought for a “diplomatic and statesmanlike” talks in dealing with the VFA.
Citing a study from think tank Stimson Center, Roque said the Philippines should be getting an amount similar to what Pakistan receives in allowing the US’ military presence in its jurisdiction.
“Base sa pag-aaral na ito, ang nakuha po natin ay $3.9 billion. Malaki po ba yan? Naku, barya po yan kung ikukumpara doon sa mga nakukuha ng ibang bansa,” Roque said.
(Based on this study, we are getting $3.9 billion. Is that amount huge? That’s cheap compared to what other countries are receiving.)
“Pakistan got $16 billion. We think we should get something similar or close to that amount but definitely, not the amount we’re currently getting,” he added.
In December, Duterte said he would continue to abrogate the VFA if the US could not provide the Philippines with its Covid-19 vaccines.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has said the Philippines and the US will iron out its differences over the VFA this month.
The VFA, which took effect in 1999, provides a mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.
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