Duterte threatens to scrap VFA after US-led MCC defers aid grant

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte threatens to scrap VFA after US-led MCC defers aid grant

U.S. and Philippine military officers stand at attention during the entrance of the colors at the opening ceremony of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise dubbed Balikatan 2016 (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) Monday, April 4, 2016 at Camp Aguinaldo, in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, file

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to scrap the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US as he assailed Washington anew for supposedly treating Manila like “garbage.”
Duterte made the statement as he was reacting to the decision of the US-led Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) to defer a $433-million funding grant to the Philippines over “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under his administration.
“I understand that we have been stricken out of the Millennium Challenge, well 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 added.
Signed in 1998, the VFA allows American and Filipino troops to conduct joint trainings in Philippine soil.
The US has criticized Duterte’s brutal war on illegal drugs, which has left more than 4,000 suspected drug offenders dead. Critics said the anti-drug campaign effectively endorsed human rights violations and extrajudicial killings but Philippine officials have denied the allegation.
Angered by the criticisms on 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 Americans.
Duterte also declared that he would “separate” himself from the US but his subordinates explained later on that he was just stressing the need for a more independent foreign policy.
The MCC, which assesses potential recipients using indicators for economic freedom, investment of people and rule of law, deferred the giving of aid to the Philippines amid accusations that the government is setting aside due process to punish drug lords.
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 malign us that way). We have this four million (drug addicts) and you are treated as if you are garbage or a doormat,” the president said.
The president's estimate of 4 million drug addicts is not supported by official government data.
“And the Philippines historically is like a doormat because every time that they criticize us, it’s always tied to a statement na mawala ang indiong assistant (that the aid given to its assistant will be lost). Sons of b******.  You picture us as if we are patay gutom (very hungry).”
Indio is a term used to refer to Filipinos during the Spanish colonial period.
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. So why are you here? What is your purpose in this Visiting Forces Agreement?

'China, Russia willing to help'

“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 cited the US State department’s move to halt the sale of some 26,000 rifles to the Philippine National Police because of alleged human rights violations under his watch. He said the Philippines can always source firearms from other sources like Russia and China.
“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 think I’ll send the Defense secretary. They said the guns are ready,” the president said.
He claimed that the military would oust him if he asks them to obey an illegal order.
Duterte is convinced that MCC’s decision to defer the giving of aid to the Philippines was a last ditch effort of the Obama administration to undermine him.
“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 or antagonistic 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 people there in the 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 newly-appointed US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, whom he described as “a very good ambassador” and “very courteous.”

‘China has the kindest soul’

Duterte said he does not mind losing the MCC grant because 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.
“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 Chinese weapons.
The Philippines and China are embroiled in a territorial dispute over some areas in the South China Sea (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 President Benigno Aquino III challenged the legality of China’s sweeping maritime claim, calling it “exaggerated” and “excessive.”
An arbitral tribunal in the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines last July and declared that China’s claim has no legal basis. 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.

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