Lacson hints at link between US vaccine donation, VFA

Published June 5, 2021, 6:17 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Panfilo Lacson intimated on Saturday, June 5, a possible link between the United States’ incoming vaccine donations to the Philippines and the visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the two countries.

Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson (Senate of the Philippines)

In an interview over radio DWIZ, the chairman of the Senate’s National Defense and Security Committee said he has received a “very reliable and credible” information about the fate of the VFA, which the Philippines arbitrarily terminated last year, but held off the effectivity of which thrice already.

Duterte has yet to decide whether or not to accept an “improved” version of the 23-year-old military pact, said Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.

“Information na nakarating lang sa akin, kung anong namagitan tungkol dyan sa VFA saka kung ano pa ‘yong ibang bagay na konektado sa bakuna (It was only an information relayed to me, about what transpired with the VFA and other things concerning the vaccines),” Lacson said.

“Ang tingin ko dyan…malaki yong pag-asa na magkakaroon tayo ng bakuna na galing sa US (I think, there is a huge possibility that we will have more vaccines arriving from the US),” he added, while refusing to divulge specific details.

Pressed if the vaccine donations are a trade-off to extending or renewing the VFA between the Philippines and the US, Lacson replied: “Hindi na, ayoko nang banggitin ‘yon, basta magbasa ka na lang between the lines (No, I don’t want to mention that anymore, just read between the lines).”

“Mas importante sa akin mabakunahan ‘yong karamihan ng ating mga kababayan (It’s more important for me that majority of our countrymen are vaccinated against COVID-19),” he said.

Lacson recalled his last meeting US Embassy charge d’affaires John Law, who expressed to him the US’ willingness to ship out its equipment from the Philippines should the country finally decide to abrogate the VFA.

Law, however, appealed that they be informed about it beforehand so they could prepare, the senator said.

The VFA, signed in 1998 and ratified by the Philippine Senate the following year, provides the legal framework for the treatment of US troops visiting the Philippines. It basically allows the joint military trainings between Filipino and American troops, resulting in the establishment of the annual Balikatan Exercise.

Duterte, however, in February, 2020 ordered its termination due to the “disrespectful” acts of Americans for criticizing his campaign against illegal drugs.

But on June 1, 2020 Duterte suspended the termination, which was supposed to take effect in August. He again extended the suspension for another six months in November; and then for six months more in January this year.

In a speech in Clark, Pampanga, last February 12, Duterte told the US that it “[has] to pay” if it wants the VFA kept.

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

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