AFP in a bind, again, after Duterte demand for US payment to keep VFA
MANILA, Philippines—The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is in a tight spot again amid a demand by President Rodrigo Duterte for Washington to pay more if it wanted to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
A day after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a television interview last week that the defense and military establishment are largely supportive of the VFA to continue, Duterte said the US should pay more if it wanted to maintain the agreement. Duterte had unilaterally cancelled the VFA in 2020 in retaliation for the revocation of the US visa of one of his closest allies, Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.
“I’d like to put on notice if there is an American agent here, from now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? You have to pay,” Duterte told soldiers after inspecting newly acquired aircraft of the Philippine Air Force at Clark Air Base.
“It is a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free, after all, when the war breaks out we all pay,” he added.
Duterte’s statements were also made a day after Philippine and US officials started talks to negotiate the VFA, which stayed alive after the effectivity of its cancellation had been postponed twice.
Critics said Duterte was committing extortion for putting on a price tag on the VFA, but presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President was only asking for compensation as soldiers’ lives were at risk under the agreement.
Commenting on the issue for the first time, AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, said he did not want to invoke his “personal view” on the matter.
“I am a soldier, I am a follower. The President is our commander in chief, I always respect his wisdom,” he said in an interview with One News on Wednesday night.
He said the VFA was just one aspect of Philippine-US alliance and other agreements would not be affected.
The VFA lists guidelines for visiting American troops in the Philippines. It covers policies on visa regulations and jurisdiction over crimes committed by US military personnel.
“The VFA is primarily on training with large number of troops,” Sobejana said. “They’re not part of our operations here so enhancement of our capability is what they gave us since we are the ones who face enemies of the state,” he said.
“VFA is just one,” Sobejana said. “There’s still the Mutual Defense Treaty with US. There are no discussions about MDT. The President mentioned only the VFA,” he said.
Under the MDT, Manila and Washington are committed to defend each other in case of an armed attack by a foreign force in the Pacific, including the South China Sea.
Lorenzana also dodged questions about Duterte’s statements about the need for the US to pay to maintain the VFA.
“No comment until I am able to talk to him about it,” he told INQUIRER.net over the weekend.
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.