Vaccines for VFA? Duterte still mulling options, says Roque

Published May 31, 2021, 2:49 PM

by Argyll Cyrus Geducos

Malacañang urged the public to first wait and see whether or not the US will really send vaccines to the Philippines before asking how this will affect President Duterte’s decision regarding the VFA.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in his press briefing on Monday Duterte needs more time to decide whether or not to keep or totally scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States of America (USA).

President Duterte (File photo/Malacañang)

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement following reports that the US under President Joseph Biden was planning on sending coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines to its allies, including the Philippines.

“HIndi pa po natin alam kung meron talagang darating at kung magkano o ilan ang darating. So anatayin po muna natin dumating (We still don’t know if they will really send vaccines or how many will they send. So let’s wait for it to arrive first),” he said.

Meanwhile, Roque reiterated that President Duterte has been giving the VFA some thought.

“I think the President has been pondering on the issue and has a bigger framework of analysis,” he said.

“Let’s just await his decision because he’s the only one who can decide on this matter,” he added.

In December last year, President Duterte warned the USA that he will proceed with the abrogation of the VFA if it fails to produce 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the Philippines.

“Iyong Visiting Forces Agreement, matatapos na. Ngayon kapag hindi ako pumayag aalis talaga sila (The VFA is about to end. Now if I don’t agree with the terms, they will have to get out),” he said.

“Kung hindi sila maka-deliver, maski na a (Now, if they fail to deliver even just a) minimum of 20 million [doses of] vaccines, they better get out. No vaccine, no stay here,” he added.

Duterte’s statement came after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Philippine Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez revealed that it was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who “dropped the ball” on the Philippines’ chance to acquire 10 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, Roque said President Duterte was still undecided whether he will pursue the abrogation of the VFA or forge a new one despite the Chief Executive saying the agreement was up for negotiation.

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.

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.