Is it extortion or just an account billing?

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    ‘A simple ruling from the High Tribunal will put the issue to rest.’

    PRESIDENT Duterte has been receiving a lot of criticisms lately about the way he is handling the issue of Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, which is a big part of the overall Philippine-US relations.

    In February 2020, the President ordered the scrapping of the VFA with the US over alleged inequities in the treaty provisions and alleged meddling in the country’s affairs, such as demands from certain American senators to release drug case respondent Sen. Leila de Lima.

    In June, however, Malacañang formally informed the United States about its decision to temporarily suspend the VFA termination for six months. The 1998 military deal that serves as an addendum to the Mutual Defense Treaty provides the rules on the conduct of visiting American soldiers in the country. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque later clarified that the planned termination of the VFA with the US will stay but there will be a one-year deferment of the process.

    Duterte’s back-tracking in June had to do with the nation’s need for US assistance in getting COVID-19 vaccines from American pharmaceutical companies when these vaccines become available. Perhaps the President and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin received assurances from the White House that this will be done, and so as a gesture of goodwill and however politically damaging it would bring him, President Duterte granted US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton absolute pardon after supposedly getting unfair treatment from prison and justice officials. Duterte argued that Pemberton, convicted for the 2014 killing of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City, was entitled to “good character presumption” after authorities were unable to record his behavior while in detention.

    Lately, Duterte was again mad at the US, revealing that former President Donald Trump did not do anything about his request for guided missiles for the Philippine military, and that the nation is getting the short end of the bargain in hosting American troops and war equipment here (Zamboanga, Subic and other areas), and that the US is turning Subic into a military base again.

    The President said the United States should pay if it wants to restore the VFA, or make their stay in the country longer. Malacañang said the Philippines should receive $16 billion like what Pakistan had received in counter-terrorism assistance from the US from 2001 to 2017. According to Roque, the Philippines received only $3.9 billion from Washington over the same period.

    This prompted Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Panfilo Lacson to say what they think of Duterte’s recent diplomatic moves: that it’s just like extorting from the nation’s long-time ally, the United States. Atty. Salvador Panelo and Roque immediately came to the President’s defense, and so we felt that with the heating up of this discussion, one of the most divisive discourses in next year’s presidential elections has begun.

    There is need for Lacson and Panelo to argue on who is right about the senators’ say on treaties like the VFA because the issue is presently before the Supreme Court. A simple ruling from the High Tribunal will put the issue to rest.