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Bye-bye America: Rody threatens to scrap VFA

The US-led MCC has deferred voting for the re-selection of the Philippines for a second round of grant over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under the Duterte administration. “I understand that we have been stricken out of the Millennium Challenge, well and good. I welcome it,” the President said. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines – The days of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) are numbered, President Duterte said yesterday, as he assailed the US for treating the Philippines like “garbage,” especially with the suspension of a $433-million funding grant from the Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC).

The US-led MCC has deferred voting for the re-selection of the Philippines for a second round of grant over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under the Duterte administration.

“I understand that we have been stricken out of the Millennium Challenge, well and good. I welcome it,” the President said.

“They (US) do not look at us kindly. We have this huge problem… actually we do not need it. We can survive without American money. But you know, America, you might also be put to notice. Prepare to leave the Philippines. Prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said, adding “So, bye bye America and work on the protocols that would eventually move you out from the Philippines.”

“Kainin nyo dolyar nyo (Eat your dollars),” he said in remarks during a visit to wounded soldiers in Zamboanga City.

Asked what would happen to US facilities inside the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) camp in Zamboanga, the President said, “They should go.”

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He said Filipino soldiers were “10 times better” than their American counterparts.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, armed forces spokesman, said at least 107 American troops are still in Westmincom providing training and assistance to their Filipino counterparts in the war against terror.

Signed in 1998, the VFA allows the US to deploy troops on a rotational basis to the Philippines as well as station equipment and facilities inside Philippine military camps subject to certain restrictions.

The US has criticized Duterte’s vicious war on illegal drugs, which has left more than 5,000 suspected drug offenders dead.

Critics said the anti-drug campaign has effectively endorsed summary executions but Philippine officials have denied the allegation.

Angered by the criticisms against his narcotics crackdown, Duterte had said he would review all military agreements with the US and scrap joint drills that, he claimed, were only beneficial to the Americans.

Duterte also declared he would “separate” himself from the US but his officials clarified later he was just stressing the need for a more independent foreign policy.

Duterte said the US has been treating the Philippines like a “doormat” and “garbage” and has been using aid to impose its will on Filipinos.

“Huwag naman tayong babuyin ng ganun (They should not treat us like dirt). We have this four million (drug addicts) and you are treated as if you are a garbage or a doormat,” the President said.

“And the Philippines historically is like a doormat because every time that they criticize us, it’s always tied to a statement that we’re losing assistance. You picture us as if we’re patay gutom (starving for crumbs),” he said, with expletives.

Duterte said the US should just leave the Philippines if it thinks the country is too dangerous. He also chided the US for raising human rights issues while “turning a blind eye” on the Philippines’ drug problem.

“If you think that there is crime there because we execute people…So why don’t you just leave and if you think that there is extrajudicial killing here –it’s a prevalent one, it’s a virulent practice, you know,” he said, adding the US should bare its real intention for entering into VFA with the Philippines.

“We will never be ready to fight with China. It is you who is egging a fight there. We will never fight with Russia. That’s too far away and besides, we are friends,” he added.

Duterte also shrugged off the US State Department’s move to halt the sale of some 26,000 rifles to the Philippine National Police (PNP), saying the Philippines can always turn to Russia or China for its arms needs.

“Russia came forth and said ‘no problem.’ As I use the word, buy one take one. China is actually, I’ll tell you now…China has been communicating with us everyday and I think I’ll send the defense secretary. They said the guns are ready,” he said.

Duterte is convinced that the MCC’s decision to defer a grant to the Philippines was a last ditch effort of the Obama administration to undermine his leadership.

“Somebody gave me a document that was passed on to me in Hong Kong, it says about undermining Duterte. Maybe they would agitate, well you know, and I said, God says I am a President. God says you are only President for six months, fine, I’ll go,” he said.  

Duterte noted that incoming US president Donald Trump was not hostile to him.

 “He (Trump) said that you know, I know that we have a bad fix between our two nations. I said, ‘yes sir. And I’m sorry for that, but it is not really your institutions but our people there in Washington DC’,” Duterte said.

“He was very nice, very courteous, I could not sense any hostile drift, or even the manner he was saying it … I’ll just wait. I will let Obama fade away and if he disappears then I will begin to reassess.”

Duterte was all praises though for new US Ambassador Sung Kim, whom he described as “a very good ambassador” and “very courteous.”

‘Kindest soul’

On the prospect of losing an MCC grant, Duterte said he is not bothered at all as China has pledged to provide the Philippines billions in aid.

“China communicated to us. They’re giving us $50 billion. So what do I need America for?” he said, adding that “China has the kindest soul.”

“We are glad that we are freed from proving anything to the United States. We do not need the money. China said they will provide… we will give you the money. So, bye bye America and work on the protocols that would eventually move you out from the Philippines.”

While he is not inclined to forge new military alliances, Duterte said he would send soldiers to Beijing for training on the use of weapons to be provided by the Chinese government.

The Philippines and China are embroiled in a territorial dispute over some areas in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, where about $5 trillion in trade passes through annually. China claims about 90 percent of the area but this is being contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

In 2013, the Philippines under then president Benigno Aquino III challenged before a UN-backed international tribunal the legality of China’s sweeping maritime claim, calling it “exaggerated” and “excessive.”

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines last July and invalidated China’s claim. China has refused to recognize the ruling, saying it was “illegal since day one.”

Duterte had said he would set aside the arbitral ruling “in the meantime” but maintained that he would not bargain with China on the issue. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda urged the administration to ask the MCC to reconsider its decision.

Legarda, chair of the Senate finance committee, said multilateral institutions or states usually rely on their individual judgments on the granting of assistance, and based on their own set of parameters. - Marvin Sy, Roel Pareño

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