US-PH ties won’t be affected by Duterte’s remarks on VFA, says envoy

Published March 5, 2021, 6:55 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The relationship between Manila and Washington will not be affected by President Duterte’s recent statement asking the United States to “pay” the Philippines if it wants to continue the implementation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a top-ranking Filipino diplomat said on Friday.

US Ambassador to Washington, D.C. Jose Manuel Romualdez ( MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

“Well, I don’t think it will have an effect. Alam mo, matagal na itong relasyon natin sa Amerika (You know, we have a long-standing relationship with America) and as a matter of fact this year we are celebrating 75th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and 70 years of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said during the regular Laging Handa briefing.

Romualdez said that Duterte’s statement asking the US to pay in exchange for the VFA could be seen in the context of the President’s desire to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). He stressed that the President wants a military that is not too dependent on the United States and would be better prepared to be a capable mutual defense partner.

Romualdez said they secured a list from the Pentagon containing an inventory of defense materials and military hardware that the US consider providing the Philippines.

“Ikinompare namin doon sa listed na ipinadala nila kay (Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana at mukhang sapat naman sa lahat ng mga hinihingi natin. Mukhang kumpleto naman at marami pang dadating na mga kailangan natin na mga armas o whatever hardware that we need from the United States ‘no (We compared from the list they sent to Secretary Lorenzana and it seems to match with what we are asking for. It seems to be complete and more arms, or whatever hardware that we need, are coming from the United States),” he said. By this time, Romualdez is hoping that President Duterte had already seen the list and would be able to assess whether the AFP’s modernization requirements would be met adequately.

The Philippines is expecting the delivery of helicopters, including 10 Blackhawks, within this year.

On Feb. 12, the President, in a speech before troops at Clar Air Base in Pampanga, demanded the US government to pay if it wants the Visiting Forces Agreement to remain in effect.

“I’d like to put on notice if there is an American agent here that from now on… You want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? You have to pay,” Duterte said. “It is shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free,” he said.

Signed in 1998, the VFA is an agreement between the two countries on the protocol for American military personnel in the country and important support to the Mutual Defense Treaty.