MANILA — Malacañang said on Monday there was "nothing wrong" with President Rodrigo Duterte's threat to scrap a defense deal with the United States if it fails to supply the Philippines with vaccines against the novel coronavirus.
The President is the "chief architect of our foreign policy," said his spokesman Harry Roque.
"Hindi po natin puwedeng ipagkait sa ating Pangulo iyang ganyang desisyon," he said in an online press briefing.
(We cannot stop the President from making that decision.)
Roque then brought up Duterte's absolute pardon in September for convicted US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who killed a Filipino transgender woman in 2014 in Olongapo City, north of the capital Manila.
"Siguro, kinailangan gawin ng Presidente iyon para masigurado na tayo'y makakuha ng bakuna. Pero hindi 'ata naging sapat iyon para tayo'y mabigyan ng bakuna. Kaya, ang opinyon ko lamang, ngayon sinabi ng Presidente na pati VFA, kakanselahin niya kung hindi tayo mabigyan ng bakuna," Roque said.
(Perhaps the President needed to do that so we could get vaccines. But perhaps it was not enough. So, in my opinion, the President said now that he would cancel the VFA if we don't get vaccines.)
"Wala pong masama d'yan. Hindi po iyan blackmail. Iyan po ay ibig sabihin ng indipendienteng panglabas na polisya... Hindi po tayo sunod-sunuran, hindi po tayo didiktahan ng kahit sino," Roque added.
(There is nothing wrong with that. That is not blackmail. That is the meaning of independent foreign policy. We will not simply obey and be dictated upon by anyone.)
Duterte over the weekend said he would push through with the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), unless Washington gives vaccines against the new coronavirus.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said "there could be a more diplomatic or at least a better way of asking a longtime ally to help us avail of the vaccines."
The VFA provides the legal framework for which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines, and experts say without it, their other bilateral defense agreements cannot be implemented.
Duterte pulled the plug on the VFA on Feb. 11 in an angry response to the revocation of a US visa held by former police chief-turned-senator Ronald Dela Rosa who led his war on drugs. The termination of the VFA was supposed to take effect in August.
But in June, the government said it had suspended plans to cancel the VFA, which is important to Washington's moves to counter Beijing's rising regional power. The postponement of the abrogation was made anew in November.
- With reports from Agence France-Presse; Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News
Video courtesy of PTV