Duterte says to listen to public sentiment on keeping or scrapping VFA
In this May 2017 photo, soldiers participate in the first part of the Civil Military Activity from the Sea, one leg of the Philippines-US Balikatan exercise for 2017 held in Casiguran, Aurora province.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV, File

Duterte says to listen to public sentiment on keeping or scrapping VFA

Alexis Romero (Philstar.com) - February 25, 2021 - 5:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said he would listen to the views of the public before deciding on whether to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, weeks after saying that the US should "pay" if it wants to keep the military pact.

Duterte said he has not yet decided on whether to terminate the agreement, which permits Filipino and American soldiers to conduct joint exercises in Philippine soil. The Philippines in February 2020 gave the US notice that it is terminating the VFA, although that termination has been suspended for two six-month periods.

"I must be frank, I do not keep secrets to the people...  I've been approached and I have been asked. I said, 'No. I have not yet as yet decided on what to do,' meaning to say, to abrogate or renew because I want to hear the people," the president said in a pre-recorded public address on Wednesday night.  

"I want the narratives to come up. Not necessarily from the — well, of course, they count very much but it won't be limited to Congress. Ordinary people can have their say," he added.

Duterte said the public can use the government hotline 8888 to express their comments or objections on the VFA.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Filipinos should know the consequences of the presence of American troops in the Philippines.

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"What I heard from him (Duterte) yesterday (Feb. 24) was we will pay a high price for the presence of American soldiers and equipment here in the Philippines because once a shootout erupts between American and its enemies, Filipinos will surely be the first to die," Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

Roque said Duterte is aware that many Filipinos look up to the US — a treaty partner, traditional ally, and former colonizer of the Philippines — but they should also understand the risks involved.

"Kinakailangan alam lang nila na ang buhay nila ay magkakaroon ng banta kung mananatili nga sa ating teritoryo ang mga Amerikano (They should be aware that their lives would be at risk if the Americans remain in our territory)," the Palace spokesman said.

"You know, the president listens, reads newspapers, listens to commentaries, and asks around, so I guess, he is trying to hear the people's sentiment and on that basis, he will also consider the people's sentiment in whatever decision he will make," he added.

Last year, Duterte said he would terminate the VFA after the US canceled the visa of senator and former police chief Ronald dela Rosa, one of the key officials behind the president's controversial anti-drug campaign.

Other reasons cited by Malacañang for the abrogation of the 1998 pact are the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the demand by some American senators to release detained opposition senator Leila de Lima; and the US travel ban against individuals responsible for de Lima's detention.

Despite his fiery rhetoric against the US, Duterte has deferred the abrogation of  VFA twice. He suspended the termination of the agreement in June, citing "political and other developments in the region." The deferment was extended for another six months last November.  

READ: US affirms commitment to MDT, VFA with Philippines

Earlier this month, Duterte demanded that the US "pay" the Philippines if it wants to retain the VFA, a statement that critics have likened to "extortion." 

The president has justified his remark, saying the Philippines would be vulnerable if a conflict involving the US escalates. He has also claimed that the US is transforming Subic in Central Luzon into a military base and that the Americans have stored "several" weapons in the Philippines. 

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