A year after giving the go signal to abrogate the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States of America (USA), President Duterte is now seeking the public’s opinion as he was unsure if he should push through with the abrogation or renew the agreement.
Duterte made the statement almost two weeks after he asked the US to pay if they want to keep the VFA with the Philippines.
In his weekly public address, President Duterte urged the public to give him their thoughts on the issue via the Citizens’ Complaint Center or the 8888 hotline.
“I must be frank, I do not keep secrets. I have not yet decided on what to do. Meaning to say, to abrogate or renew [the suspension] because I want to hear the people,” he said Wednesday evening.
“I want the narratives to come up… Ang ordinaryong mamamayan (The ordinary people) can have the say. There’s always the 8888 and you can enter your objections and comment that you would think would help the country,” he added.
On February 12, President Duterte reminded the Americans that the military pact between the two countries is a “shared responsibility.”
“I’d 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,” he said.
“It’s a shared responsibility. But, your share of responsibility does not come free because, after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay. You, kami (us),” he added.
Duterte’s remarks, however, were described as “extortion” by critics, including Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Malacañang has denied that President Duterte was extorting from the US and, in fact, said that the Philippines should even be getting more than the amount it is receiving from the US.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte was only right to ask the US to pay because it is making the Philippines a “valid military target.”
In December last year, President Duterte warned the United States that he will proceed with the abrogation of the VFA if the latter fails to produce 20 million doses of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines for the Philippines.
The VFA, signed in 1998 and ratified the following year, allows joint trainings between American and Filipino soldiers in the Philippines and governs the conduct of US troops while they are in the country.
In February last year, President Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA after the US revoked the visa of his close ally Senator Ronald Dela Rosa and after the ban on the entry of officials supposedly behind the arrest and detention of Senator Leila de Lima.
In June 2020, President Duterte suspended the termination of the VFA due to “political and other developments in the region.” Last month, the government suspended the abrogation anew but negotiations continue.