President Duterte is still undecided whether he will pursue the abrogation of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States of America (USA) or forge a new one.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement following reports that the VFA between the Philippines and the US was not up for renegotiation despite Duterte making such a statement this month.
In his press briefing on Monday, Roque said that the President told him that he was still unsure about what to do with the VFA.
“Ang huling sinabi niya sa akin, wala pa talaga siyang desisyon sa VFA. Pinag-iisipan pa rin niya (The last thing he told me was he really has no decision yet on the VFA. He’s still thinking about it),” he said.
“Tanging Presidente lang po talaga ang makakapag-desisyon kung magkakaroon ng bagong VFA o tuluyan nang ibabasura (Only the President can make the decision if there will be a new VFA or if it will be scrapped). Let us wait for his decision,” he added.
According to Roque, one of the factors that the President was thinking of was if the VFA would be helpful in case the issue in the West Philippine Sea goes south.
“Ang nasa isip niya eh makakatulong ba sa atin ang pagkakaroon ng Visiting Forces Agreement dito sa ating bayan (He’s thinking if the VFA will be beneficial to us),” he said.
Meanwhile, the Palace official said that President Duterte has been studying the VFA for a long time.
“Alam na po ni Presidente kung ano ang mga bagay-bagay na dapat ikonsidera sa kanyang gagawin niyang desisyon (The President knows the different things he should consider when he makes his decision),” Roque said.
“Matagal naman pong pinag-aaralan ni Presidente itong issue ng VFA at ang relasyong Amerika at Pilipinas (The President has been studying this issue of the VFA and the Philippines’ relations with the US for a long time),” he added.
This was not the first time President Duterte’s uncertainty about the VFA was made known to the public. In February, Duterte sought the public’s opinion because he was unsure if he should push through with the abrogation or renew the agreement.
“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.
“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.” He asked the US to pay if they want to keep the VFA.
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.