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Duterte wants peopleâs opinion on VFA abrogation
“I must be frank, I do not keep secrets from the people... I’ve been approached and I have been asked. I said, ‘No. I have not 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 last Wednesday.
Presidential photos, File

Duterte wants people’s opinion on VFA abrogation

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 26, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s now the public pulse that will guide President Duterte in deciding what to do next with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

“I must be frank, I do not keep secrets from the people... I’ve been approached and I have been asked. I said, ‘No. I have not 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 last Wednesday.

His decision “to hear the people” first before deciding on the fate of VFA came weeks after he declared that the US should pay if it wants the military arrangement to remain in force.

He earlier also claimed that the US is transforming Subic into a military base and that the Americans have stored “several” weapons in the Philippines.

His critics said asking the US, a treaty ally, to pay was akin to extortion.

The VFA allows the US military to keep forces in Filipino bases as well as hold joint exercises with local troops.

“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 the say,” he added.

Duterte said the public can use the government hotline 8888 to air comments or objections to the VFA.

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

“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 America 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 and traditional ally of the Philippines – but they should also understand the risks involved.

“They should be aware that their lives would be at risk if the Americans remain in our territory,” the Palace spokesman said in Filipino.

“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 Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, former police chief and one of the implementers of 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 Sen. Leila de Lima and the US travel ban on individuals responsible for De Lima’s detention.

Duterte would later decide twice to hold off his abrogation of VFA. 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.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the President was right about seeking public opinion before making any decision on the defense pact.

“PRRD is a populist so it makes sense to get a sense of the public regarding VFA. Not the sense of self-important people but common folk,” Locsin tweeted.

“Important 2 is sense of the military from whose chiefs Cabinet gets a sense of hostility because of shabby treatment in among other things military exercises where, officers complain, they just drool looking at – maybe handling even – but never getting to keep superior weaponry,” he said.

Locsin mentioned a “master list” of the vastly bigger amounts of US military assistance to the Duterte administration than to any previous administration, especially after 2019. “That master list is top secret though; so take my word for it,” he said.

In July, Locsin said at a virtual media forum that the Philippines was eyeing a mutually beneficial arrangement with the US, with the VFA renewable every six months.

“We’ll come up with something that our own military will feel now finally we have a relationship that is meaningful and useful to both sides,” the DFA chief said.

The US sought in November a “longer” extension of the VFA to allow negotiations to address important concerns of both sides.

The secretary announced last Feb. 11 the start of the meeting between the Philippines and the US to “iron out” differences over the VFA. – Edith Regalado, Pia Lee-Brago

PRESIDENT DUTERTE VFA
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