Duterte seeks dialogue with US officials on VFA — ‘It’s on the table’

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2021 02:06 AM | Updated as of Jul 20 2021 02:26 AM

MANILA—President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he plans to talk with US officials about the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

“Itong Visiting Forces Agreement, ang extension niyan is on deck, on the table . . . I just want to talk to some people in Washington, be it on the Office of the President or the State Department or the Defense Department," he said during a taped public briefing.

In June, the Philippines again suspended a decision to scrap the crucial agreement governing the US troop presence in the country, amid continuing maritime pressure from China.

This was the third such suspension since the Philippines announced it was pulling out of the VFA in February 2020.

Signed in 1999, the VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. 

Experts say that without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), cannot be implemented.

In May, Jose Manuel Romualdez, Philippine ambassador to the US, said US President Joe Biden hoped to meet Duterte in person for a bilateral discussion. 

Washington is "hopeful" that Duterte would extend the troop pact, Romualdez said. 

"Sumulat na nga si President Biden kay (Biden wrote) President Duterte not only for the occasion of the 75th anniversary (of US-Philippine relations), but also to inform him of how strongly the relationship between the United States and the Philippines would continue, and that he hopes he will be able to meet in person with the President at some point in time," Romualdez said.

Last February, Duterte earlier demanded that the US, the Philippines' longtime defense ally, must "pay" a toll, if it wants to keep the VFA with Manila. 

The US earlier this June said the Philippines would get a portion of its surplus vaccines against COVID-19. 

Malacañang said Duterte was the only one who could decide on how the vaccine donation would affect the VFA. — With a report from Joyce Balancio, ABS-CBN News

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