Duterte says US vaccine donations led him to keep VFA

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte admitted it was the United States' donations of COVID-19 vaccines that pushed him to ultimately keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after repeatedly threatening to scrap it.

"Give and take lang tayo. Pasalamat tayo sa kanila at may naibigay naman ako sa kanila na concession. I conceded the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement, in gratitude," said Duterte on Monday, August 3, during a televised address.

(We did a give and take. We thank them and I made a concession. I conceded the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement, in gratitude.)

"I'd like to thank the President of the United States, si Biden, the government, and the people of America for not forgetting us. Do not forget us because we share the same outlook in geopolitics, especially in Southeast Asia," the Philippine leader added.

The Philippines received over three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the US last July 16 and 17 and is set to receive three million more doses, this time of the Moderna vaccine, from its Western ally on Tuesday, August 4.

Duterte did not grace the arrival ceremony for the Johnson & Johnson vaccines but he was expected to be present to welcome the Moderna donation.

In between the arrival of these donations, Duterte was visited by his first Biden Cabinet member, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III. It was the day after their meeting when the government announced Duterte's decision to keep the VFA.

Duterte’s decision ended over a year of uncertainty over the fate of the deal which provides the legal framework for the presence of US troops in the Philippines for war games and other joint activities.

Yet despite his bluster, Duterte thrice suspended the process of terminating the deal – first in June 2020, again in November 2020, after Joseph Bidenvictory as US president, and a third time in June 2021, to make way for further negotiations

Duterte had also publicly laid down conditions for the continuance of the VFA – demanding, first, COVID-19 vaccines, and then "payment" for the VFA.

No changes had been made to the original text of the military deal. But a side agreement was being eyed to address contentious provisions such as those on the custody of erring American troops. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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