MANILA - The Philippines received nearly $600 million in military assistance from the US under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, the country's envoy to Washington said Thursday.
Manila's relationship with Washington is in a "very good place now" compared with the beginning of the Duterte administration, said Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.
"Mainly because for whatever it is, the Duterte administration had made it very clear that we cannot be taken for granted," he told ANC's Headstart.
"We cannot take them for granted and neither should they take us for granted. We should work together, making sure our interest are well-protected."
Duterte in 2020 unilaterally canceled the two-decade-old VFA, in an angry response to an ally being denied a visa. The withdrawal period has been twice extended to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed. In July 2021, the Philippines restored the VFA.
The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the country and experts say without it other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, cannot be implemented.
From 2016, the Philippines has received "probably one of the largest ever military assistance in the history" of its relationship to the US, Romualdez added.
"This is because obviously there is a major concern of influence that is coming out of other countries, specifically of course from China, which is now considered to be a competitor of the United States in our part of the world," he said.
The Philippines had a "very successful" bilateral strategic dialogue with the US last November, which resulted in a vision statement that covers 10 years, Romualdez said.
"Our strategy now with the US is clear: that we have a strong alliance, it's not the VFA alone, it’s an exchange of information which is very important and then of course our alliance with other countries, with Japan, Australia in our part of the world," he said.
"That strategy is now in place, we have a situation where it's
clear any attack on the Philippines Is an attack on the US, that’s very clear now...That we can call on the US if we need them and vice versa, they might call on us if they need us."
There are "plans for the future" for naval exercises with the US, Romualdez added.
"Probably down the road we’ll have these exercises that are mostly defensive in nature for us and there’s coordination with the US in these matters," he said.
The US is also "watching keenly" the outcome of the Philippines elections in May which it expects to be "credible, clean and no influence from other countries," Romualdez said.
"I think so far the US their policy is we will work with any leader that has been duly elected by the Filipino people. To them, they see all major candidates they can work with," he said.