‘Don’t forget us’: Duterte thanks US President Biden for COVID-19 vaccines

In a rare instance, President Duterte was friendly to the United States, which he once spurned for China, and asked the global superpower not to forget the Philippines, a treaty ally.

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his public address on August 2, 2021. (PCOO Screenshot)

This came after Washington sent 6.2 million vaccines—3.2 million Janssen and 3 million Moderna—in a span of three weeks. More are expected to come as the United States is also poised to distribute its surplus of Astrazeneca vaccines.

“I would like to thank the president of the United States, (Joseph) Biden, the government, and the people of America for not forgetting us. Do not forget us because we share, we share the same outlook sa geopolitics dito (in the geopolitics here) especially sa (in) Southeast Asia,” Duterte said in his taped public address on Monday night.

This was an unusual statement from the Chief Executive who was vocal of his admiration of China and has once cursed Biden’s friend and partymate, former US President Barack Obama.

His mention of the geopolitics in Southeast Asia was also a departure from his statements saying that the maritime issues with China are best dealt with bilaterally.

The United States, though not party to the territorial issue, insists its interest in ensuring freedom of commerce and navigation, as well as peace and stability in the region.

Last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the country will uphold the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which the President once threatened to terminate, after his meeting with visiting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III.

READ: Duterte keeps VFA after getting ‘clarity’ on US commitment to defense treaty

He did not give specifics as to what led to the decision that has strained the relationship between the two allies since Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA after the United States revoked the visa of his close ally and friend, former police chief and now Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa.

Duterte, during his address to the nation, admitted that the termination of the abrogation of the VFA was a “give-and-take” strategy.

“Pasalamat tayo sa kanila at may naibigay naman ako sa kanila na (Let us thank them and I was also able to give them a) concession. I consider the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

VFA allows joint training exercises between American and Filipino soldiers and governs the conduct of US troops while they are in the country.

READ: 'US vaccine aid may have boosted VFA retention,' says Roque

The VFA makes it possible for the US military to assist the country’s armed forces in combating extremist groups and any threat to the country’s territory and sovereignty.

It allows Washington to keep a military presence in the region, which is a potential flashpoint for armed conflict because of China’s vast claims in the West Philippine Sea.