MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte wants Filipinos to understand the possible consequences of keeping the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US), Malacañang said Thursday.
This, after Duterte sought public opinion on the VFA before deciding on the fate of the controversial military pact.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in an online press briefing, said Duterte is not discounting the possibility that the Philippines might be put at risk, in case he lifts his earlier decision to terminate VFA.
Duterte, Roque said, raised worry that should a war break out between the US and its enemy, it would cause serious damage to the Philippines.
“Dahil kapag nagkaroon nga ng putukan sa panig ng Amerika at ng kaniyang mga kalaban, siguradong una pang mamamatay ang mga Pilipino kapag sila’y naririto sa Pilipinas (If America engages in war with its enemies, it’s certain that Filipinos will be the first to die if they (Americans) are here in the Philippines),” Roque said.
Roque said Duterte also wants Filipinos to realize that saving VFA could jeopardize Filipinos’ lives.
“Pero sinasabi nga ng Pangulo, dahil alam naman niyang maraming mga Pilipino na talagang tumitingala sa mga Amerikano, kinakailangan alam lang nila na ang buhay nila ay magkakaroon lang ng banta kung mananatili nga sa ating teritoryo ang mga Amerikano (The President said he is aware that many Filipinos look up to Americans but they have to know that their lives will be in danger if we let Americans stay here in our territory),” he said.
In a public address delivered Wednesday night, Duterte admitted that he could not decide whether to enforce or suspend anew the termination of VFA.
Duterte also said he wants to hear Filipinos’ comments on or objections to VFA.
Roque said Duterte’s decision on VFA would be based on public sentiment.
“I guess he is trying to hear the people’s sentiment and on that basis, he will also consider the people’s sentiment in whatever decision he will take,” he said.
Initially, Duterte asked the US to “pay” first before he reconsiders his decision to revoke the VFA, saying there is a need to give the Philippines something in return since it is the “nearest, possible and convenient outpost” near China.
On Feb. 11, 2020, Duterte scrapped the VFA, a 1998 defense deal inked by Manila and Washington to allow US troops to participate in military drills in the Philippines without the need to secure passport and visa.
However, Duterte ordered on June 1, 2020 the suspension of VFA revocation for six months “in light of political and other developments in the region”.
The Philippines and US officials are expected to meet this month to iron out differences over the VFA. (PNA)