VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday likened President Duterte to an “extortionist” and a “criminal” for saying that the United States government will have to pay if it wants to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the suspension of which has already been postponed twice by the Philippine government.
“Parang extortion lang, Ka Ely. Parang ano eh, parang kriminal e. ‘Kung gusto mo nito, magbayad ka muna’ (It’s just like extortion. He’s acting like a criminal. ‘You want this, pay up first’),” Robredo told anchor Ely Saludar on her weekly program on RMB radio.
Robredo said the government should cite valid reasons if it is still leaning towards putting an end to the agreement instead of demanding money from the US, which she said is “embarrassing.”
“Parang nag-eextort tayo. So sa akin, Ka Ely, kapag sinabi nating ayaw nating i-renew iyong VFA, ilatag natin kung bakit. Ipakita natin bakit hindi siya nakakabuti sa atin. Hindi iyong pera iyong consideration (It seems like we’re extorting money. To me, we have to cite the reasons why we don’t want the VFA renewed. Show why it’s not beneficial to us.
Money should not be a consideration),” she added.
President Duterte on Saturday said the Philippines has to be compensated by the US if it wants to renew the international agreement because he fears that the country might be caught in the middle in case an armed conflict breaks out between the US and China.
He made the statement a day after Philippine and US officials began closed-door talks on security cooperation but he did not specify what kind of compensation he wants the US to give the Philippine government.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last Thursday said he was hoping that the Balikatan joint military exercises, which is a key component of the VFA, would continue this May.
The Vice President said a country’s bilateral relation with another country should not be based on money but on “mutual benefits of both parties to a contract.”
“Hindi naman dahil, ‘Kaibigan kita kung bigyan mo ako ng pera.’ Hindi iyon ganoon e. (It’s not like, ‘We’re friends if you pay me.’ It doesn’t work that way),” Robredo said.
In February last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs notified the US government of President Duterte’s decision to terminate the VFA, a decision deemed to have been prompted by the US government’s move to cancel the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, a former police chief who led the government’s violent war on illegal drugs before he crossed the political line.
The termination was supposed to take effect 180 days after or in August last year.
However, Manila told Washington in June last year that it was suspending for six months the VFA termination amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In November or five months later, it announced it was suspending the accord’s termination for another six months.
Robredo also lambasted the administration for continuing to kowtow to China in the South China Sea dispute, reacting to Lorenzana’s statement that the Philippines will not join maritime exercises with US because “China is watching.”
“Nakakalungkot iyong nabasa natin na hindi tayo gagalaw kasi takot tayo at pinapanood tayo ng China. Ano ba naman iyon? Hindi natin kayang proteksyunan iyong sarili natin dahil natatakot tayo sa iba? (It’s lamentable that we’ve read that we will not act because we are afraid since China is watching us. What’s that all about? We can’t protect ourselves because we’re afraid of other countries?),” she said.
The Vice President said the Philippine government does not want to have any conflict with China by fighting for its rights in the West Philippine Sea, especially after winning its arbitration case against China.
“It would be extremely embarrassing for the country to display cowardice because it does not have to challenge China to a gunfight to let it know that the Philippines is not giving up its rights in the area,” Robredo said.
“Hindi gustong sabihin noon nakikipag-away ka. Pero iyong number one na obligasyon mo, sa mga Pilipino. Iyong number one na obligasyon, sa mga Pilipino. Hindi puwedeng hindi mo sila poproteksyunan kasi natatakot ka. Hindi tayo ganiyan (It doesn’t mean we’re picking a fight but your number one obligation is to the Filipinos. It’s unacceptable not to protect them out of cowardice. We aren’t like that),” she said.