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Duterte to US: 'You want VFA done? You have to pay'

Two months after dangling the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in exchange for coronavirus vaccines, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the United States would "have to pay" if it wants the precarious agreement to continue.

"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? You have to pay," Duterte said on Friday, February 12, as he faced members of the Philippine Air Force at Clark Air Base in Pampanga. 

"It is shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come for free. Because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay," added the President. 

The VFA, signed in 1999, allowed the presence of US military forces in the country, but only in a visiting capacity. The Aquino-time EDCA or Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was a further operational feature of the VFA, providing for increased military presence here. 

Last December 2020, Duterte had threatened to boot out American troops from Philippine soil should the US fail to deliver COVID-19 vaccines for Filipinos. 

Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel "Babe" Romualdez had said that American pharmaceutical company Pfizer – the first to secure an emergency use authorization in the country – would ensure supply of its COVID-19 vaccine for the Philippines.

In his speech on Friday, Duterte also said he "resents" the US as its officials had failed in the past to deliver on their promises to provide military equipment to the Philippines.

The President also said he personally does not like to have US troops in the Philippines, but that the "exigency of the moment requires their presence here."

"Eh ako naman sa America, in the past, marami silang – panghihinakit ko rin (When it comes to America, in the past – and this is where my resentment comes from) – we asked so much of them because they have taken so much from us," said Duterte. 

"Okay na lang ako diyan (I just have to accept and be okay with it). But in the past, we ordered so much from them and so much were not delivered at all," he added.

This is not the first time Duterte had threatened to scrap the VFA. The President earlier sent notice in February 2020 that the Philippines would terminate the VFA, leaving the deal to last until August that year. 

But he suspended this twice – in June, and then in November the same year – thus putting the decades-long military agreement back in effect until 2021.

The US first received notice of the suspension on June 1, 2020. This means that with the second extension of the suspension done in November last year, the termination of the VFA – should it push through – will take effect on August 9, 2021.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr had explained that Duterte's change of mind over the VFA was due to the rising tensions in the South China Sea.

Locsin said the Philippines and the US will meet this month to iron out differences over the VFA. – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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