No extortion in Rody’s remarks on VFA – Roque

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    PRESIDENT Duterte was simply upholding the country’s interest when he sought just compensation for the continued presence of American soldiers in the country, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.

    Roque said the President did not engage in extortion when he said during the weekend that “they (US) have to pay” if they want to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Manila and Washington because “it (VFA) is a shared responsibility but your share of responsibility does not come free.”

    “To those who are saying that this is extortion, it is not extortion. That is establishing the national interest of the Filipinos,” Roque said.

    Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday said she found the President’s statement embarrassing and compared this to the extortion activities of criminals.

    The VFA was signed in 1998 by the Philippines and the US governments to provide the legal cover for American soldiers who come to the country for joint military exercises between the armed forces of the two countries.

    Roque said given the current financial difficulties faced by the country due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), there is no reason not to ask for what is due to the government and its people.

    “We have a lot of spending, especially in connection with COVID-19, so why would we not seek payment? We can use the money for our COVID response, for free food for students, for the Universal Health Care, for free water… all of these need funds,” he said.

    He added that the Philippines, being an ally of the US and a party to the VFA, can face huge damages if war ensues. “We can become a valid military target,” he also said.

    Besides, Roque said, the Philippine government has been getting a pittance from the US government, citing a report from Stimson Center which showed the Philippines merely received an estimated $3.9 billion worth of aid from the US from 2002 to 2017 for the country’s counterterrorism efforts, while Pakistan got $16.4 billion during the same period.

    “We think we should get something similar or close to that amount. But definitely, not the amount we are currently getting,” he said.

    Asked what the Philippines would do if the US does not agree, Roque said the President has been clear in his statement that, “he wants compensation”.

    “If the Americans don’t agree, then there is also the previous declaration of the Filipino President that he will terminate the VFA,” he said.

    Duterte had sent notice to the US for the abrogation of the VFA but had suspended the process. In December he again threatened to push for the termination of the VFA unless the US provided the country with 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

    Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario said that instead of demanding payment from Washington, the President Duterte should instead seek P230 billion in damages from Beijing for the massive destruction it has wrought on the West Philippine Sea.

    “China owes Filipinos more than P230 billion in damages for undertaking the most devastating marine destruction in the West Philippine Sea, which will eventually cause a food crisis among Filipinos in the near future. In this case, when will President Duterte demand China to pay?” Del Rosario said in a statement.

    Del Rosario, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio have earlier filed a case against Chinese President Xi Jingping, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other senior Chinese officials before the International Criminal Court citing China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea that they said caused massive marine destruction to the detriment of Filipino fishermen and others whose livelihood are dependent on the area.

    Calling Duterte’s recent remark as an “unfortunate remark,” Del Rosario said many “patriotic soldiers and countrymen” do not share that sentiment.

    “Instead, it is a sentiment shared by the Chinese Communist Party, which does not want other countries helping the Philippines defend its waters,” he said.

    Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Del Rosario’s statement may have killed the chances of the VFA and accused him of working for Beijing. – With Ashzel Hachero