MANILA (UPDATE)—President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he could travel to the United States to thank it for supplying the Philippines with millions of COVID-19 jabs.
After confirming from vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. that the US will send 5 million more COVID-19 vaccine shots to the Philippines, Duterte praised Washington, a stance he has rarely taken toward the superpower since he became president.
"Ang bait ng Amerika. Baka pupunta ako doon. (America is kind. I may go there.) Just to thank the American government and [its] people," Duterte said in a taped public briefing.
Last month, US President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin and Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana during their visit to Washington to mark the 70th anniversary of the two countries' Mutual Defense Treaty.
At the time, Sullivan said Washington will provide an additional $11.3 million in COVID-19 assistance to Manila, bringing the total of US COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines since the start of the pandemic to $37 million, in addition to millions of jabs donated.
US officials have been at the receiving end of Duterte’s tirades at the start of his presidential term in 2016 when he was slammed for disregarding human rights in his controversial drug war.
Duterte had threatened to pull out US forces from the country, declared a "separation" from the US, and favored joining a "new order" with Russia and China.
Last year, the President notified the US about its abrogation of the two countries’ Visiting Force Agreement after the United States canceled the US visa of Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, a close ally.
But Duterte himself reversed the abolition after meeting US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila last July.
He later acknowledged that the US vaccine donations to the Philippines led him to keep the military pact with Washington.
According to the US Embassy in Manila, the United States has facilitated the delivery of over 16 million vaccine doses to the Philippines through the COVAX Facility, an initiative that aims for equitable access to COVID-19 jabs for all.