Duterte blasts Robredo, Lacson over US 'extortion' criticisms in VFA threat

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 16 2021 02:35 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte told Vice President Leni Robredo to look at the Constitution, after the latter criticized the former's demand that the US must pay to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines. ABS-CBN News

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night said the Chief Executive is the sole architect of the country's foreign policy according to law, days after he demanded the US must pay money if it wants to keep its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines.

Duterte, in a public briefing, said that under the Constitution, "foreign relations or foreign policy is vested in the President alone."

"Kung ano ang policy na gusto niya ipalabas for the Philippines (What policy he wants for the Philippines), is vested in the President and not with the senators or the Vice President," he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson earlier criticized the President's demand for money from the US, saying this is "extortion" and may give the impression that the Philippines is a "nation of extortionists."

Duterte fired back, and claimed that Robredo forgets her law background "every time she opens her mouth."

"Being a lawyer, she should know that the Constitution says that, that is my function. It is not their function. At kung ano gusto kong sabihin para sa bayan, may purpose 'yan. Hindi nila kasi alam, na alam ko noon, na meron tayong binili na armas sa Amerika, it took them years to deliver, practically using the money, our money, for so many years," he said.

(What I want to order for my country, that has purpose. They don't know, which I know, that we earlier bought weapons from America, but it took them years to deliver.)

He added: "Dapat alam mo 'yan, abogado ka. You should not be opening your mouth while we are negotiating. Kasi madaming kasalanan ang Amerika sa atin. Ang pagka-alam mo lang kasi, napunta ka ng Amerika, nagsalita ka doon, you were treated almost as a royalty, tapos ito nangyari ngayon. Kakampi ka [sa kanila] ng walang rason."

(You should know that, you're a lawyer. America has a lot of offenses against us. What you only know is, you went there, made a speech, were treated as royalty, and this happens. You side with them without reason.)

Duterte reiterated that Robredo, one of his political arch-rivals, can't be president of the country. He also said he wasn't sure if Lacson's statement was "pretended ignorance."

"Sabihin ko sayo na you have nothing to do with this. I may accept your comments, but use it in a way … use a language that will promote your person, human being. Hindi 'yung basta-basta ka na lang magpost-post without really finding out whether you are part of it or not. I'm telling you, you are not. Next time, consult a lawyer in your office," he said.

(I'm telling you you have nothing to do with this. Don't just speak up and post something without really finding whether you are part of it or not.)

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Duterte said the Philippines' ill-equipped military will falter against China in the event of war between the two neighboring countries, unless the US will provide its long-time ally in Asia weapons and defensive systems.

"We should be provided with the arms and armaments that's capable of at least, that will place us (in) equal footing with the other countries that are at war with us. Kasi titirahin talaga tayo ng China (China will really hit us)," he said, claiming Palawan will be the first area in the Philippines that will be hit in case of military conflict between the two superpowers.

Duterte unilaterally canceled the two-decade-old VFA last year, in an angry response after his ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, was denied a US visa supposedly due to his role in the Philippines' violent war on drugs. The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however.

Philippine defense and military officials have affirmed their support for the VFA, which is central to Washington's Asia strategy, as China continues to flex its muscles in the continent.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said last week their "general feeling is for the VFA to continue" but that he told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin that "we don't want any miscalculations or accidents in the South China Sea because we are right smack there in the center of conflict."

Although he has said that he's a "friend" of both China and the US, Duterte has proclaimed his aversion for the Americans even before he won the presidential elections in 2016.

Ties between Manila and Washington have been strained under the Duterte administration, due to his frequent statements condemning US foreign policy while embracing China, despite the latter's aggressions in Philippine territories.

While the Philippines-US relationship "has always been strong", Lorenzana said the country "should not be made to choose" between Washington and Beijing.

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