‘Mukhang pera’: Not all Filipinos are extortionists, US told, after Duterte solicits fee for VFA

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
�Mukhang pera�: Not all Filipinos are extortionists, US told, after Duterte solicits fee for VFA
President Rodrigo Duterte presides over a televised meeting with the coronavirus task force on Feb. 8, 2021.
Released / Presidential Communications

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Saturday expressed embarrassment at recent comments made by President Rodrigo Duterte who told the US that it must pay to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines.

"Just to clarify, please be informed that we are not a nation of extortionists; at lalong hindi kami ‘mukhang pera’ (and we are definitely not greedy)," Lacson said on Twitter in a note addressed to the US who he referred to as "Sam."

"Well....not all of us," he tacked on in Filipino, signing off "shamefully" as "Juan."

The country expressed its intent to terminate the VFA in February 2020, after the cancellation of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa's US visa earned Duterte's ire, but has suspended the abrogation twice, also at Duterte's instruction.

In a rambling speech delivered Friday night to troops at Clark Air Base in Pampanga, Duterte repeated a threat he's made since the beginning of his term, saying: "I would like to put on notice if there’s an American agent here, that from now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? Well, they have to pay."

"Because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay. You, kami (us), we are nearest to the garrison there where there are a lot of arsenals of the Chinese armed forces."

'Walking on a tightrope'

The Philippines is currently wrapped up in a maritime dispute with China which officially considers as part of its territory the resource-rich West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, despite an arbitral ruling which junks its claims.

Beijing also recently passed a law allowing its coast guard to shoot at foreign vessels. In response, the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest and Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said earlier this week that the navy would be increasing its visibility in the West Philippine Sea to protect Filipino fishermen.

Duterte told members of the military that he was "walking on a tightrope" and "cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China" because the military cannot afford any confrontation with the regional superpower.

Referring to the US, he also said: "We asked so much of them because they have taken so much from us."

READ: Palace: China's vaccine donation to military has no bearing on West Philippine Sea issue

US should pay in weapons, Locsin says

Responding to Duterte's remarks on Friday night, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the US should pay for the VFA's continuation with new choppers and missiles.

"In short, we need lots more of those Blackhawks and precision-guided missiles," he said on Twitter. "Can’t get any clearer than that."

"The last Cabinet meeting was mostly about Army choppers. And how I will tailor diplomacy to what the Army needs."

As part of the plan to decommission all of the Philippine Air Force's Huey lift helicopters, which are frequently involved in fatal crashes, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles last week announced that Duterte approved the acquisition of 15 more Black Hawk helicopters.

According to Nograles, the Department of National Defense requested 76 new helicopters but the number was trimmed down to 15 owing to the challenges presented by the pandemic.

"Time to talk Turkey which is offering great weapons on terrific terms," Locsin added, seeming to take a swipe at the terms offered by the US.

"A Mutual Defense Treaty assumes both parties can contribute to a war in the mutual defense," he also said, referring to the treaty established in 1951 which the VFA is meant to support.

The US and the Philippines on Thursday began talks on the status of the VFA but the Department of Foreign Affairs has yet to offer any update, revealing only that the working-level meeting would tackle "bilateral defense and security cooperation, as part of regular and continuing engagement with [the] US on strengthening our alliance."

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