MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he wanted to "hear the people" on what he should do with the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.
Duterte said he has "not yet decided on what to do, meaning to say to abrogate or renew" the VFA, which allows the presence of US military forces in the Philippines in a visiting capacity. Earlier this month, the President told Washington to "pay," without specifying what, if it wanted to keep the pact.
"I want to hear the people. I want the narratives to come up... hindi limitado dito sa (not limited to the) Congress. Ang ordinaryong mamamayan can have a say," Duterte said in a televised speech.
Through government complaint hotline 8888, the public can "enter your objections or any comment that you think would help the country."
US military aid to the Philippines amounts to "loose change" compared to other Asian countries, Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque earlier said.
He cited a study by Washington-based Stimson Center, which showed the Philippines received $3.9 billion in US counter-terrorism support from 2002-2017, compared to the $16.4 billion for Pakistan over the same period.
“Pakistan got $16 billion. We think we should get something similar or close to that amount, but definitely not the amount we are currently getting,” said the Palace spokesman.
“For now, what the President wants is if you want to continue using our territory, we want just compensation for it— hindi barya, hindi bulok na mga equipment. Iyong mga dumating pong equipment, binili po natin iyan, hindi po iyan ibinigay,” added Roque.
(We want just compensation for it—not loose change, not outdated equipment. The equipment that just arrived, we bought those; those were not given to us.)
Duterte unilaterally cancelled the two-decade-old VFA last year, in an angry response to an ally being denied a visa. The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials have said is a window for better terms to be agreed.
Before Duterte's payment demand, Philippine and US officials this week met to settle differences over the 2-decade-old VFA. The meeting is the first under the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has reaffirmed the alliance in the face of China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Beijing has refused to recognize a ruling that junked its sweeping claims to the resource-rich waterway, including parts of the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
Duterte said he was "walking on a tightrope" and he "cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China because we are avoiding any confrontation... that would lead to something that we can hardly afford, at least at this time."
Duterte said he was a "friend" of both China and the US.
"But what I don't like is iyong para kang bata na they promise you—ganoon iyan e, magpunta iyong mga top brass nila (it's like that, their top brass go here). This group will promise you, and once they take off, they forget all about it," he said.
Ties between the United States and its former colony have been complicated by Duterte's rise to power in 2016 and his frequent statements condemning US foreign policy, and open embrace of China.
But while the Philippines-US relationship "has always been strong", Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the country "should not be made to choose" between Washington and Beijing.
Lorenzana has also expressed concern about a new Chinese law empowering coastguard to fire on what it sees as threats, and repeated US navy patrols that China sees as provocations.
— With a report from Reuters