MANILA – Malacañang on Tuesday raised the possibility that the Philippines’ “debt of gratitude” to the United States (US) might sway President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“Sabihin na lang po natin, lahat ng Pilipino, kasama si Presidente, tumatanaw ng utang na loob (Let’s just say that all Filipinos, including the President, are honoring our debt of gratitude),” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online press briefing when asked what factors Duterte might consider accepting the VFA between the Philippines and the US.
The White House’s recent announcement that it would give the Philippines a free surplus of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines made Duterte “pondered” on the possible reconsideration of the VFA.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed confidence that Duterte would agree to the new terms of the VFA.
Lorenzana also bared that an “addendum” to the VFA will be discussed during his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III who is set to visit the Philippines on July 29 and 30.
In a pre-recorded Talk to the People aired on Monday, Duterte said he is seeking a dialogue with the US over the VFA.
Roque said Duterte has no scheduled meeting with Austin yet for the possible discussion of the VFA.
“Wala pa po akong (I have yet to receive) notification by way of his (Duterte) official schedule. But the visiting secretary would be definitely meeting with Secretary Delfin Lorenzana,” he said.
Duterte, Roque added, has yet to decide on the proposed new terms of the VFA.
“Hindi ko po alam kung magkakaroon ng kasagutan ang Presidente (I don’t know yet if the President will make a decision) whether or not to extend the VFA. So, let’s wait for po for his final decision. Wala pa pong desisyon (There is no decision yet),” Roque said.
In June this year, Duterte decided to postpone for the third time the termination of the VFA for six more months.
Duterte on Feb. 11, 2020 revoked the VFA, a 1998 military deal inked by Manila and Washington to allow US troops to join military drills in the Philippines sans the need to secure passports and visa.
The VFA was supposed to be effectively scrapped in August last year, but its termination was suspended for six months upon Duterte’s order because of “political and other developments in the region.”
The Philippines extended in November last year the suspension of VFA termination for another six months. (PNA)