With VFA uncertain, Duterte lashes out at U.S. once again

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte delivered a fresh round of tirades against the United States as he doubled down on threats to terminate its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines.

Duterte on Monday, February 10, said while he "understood" the benefits and costs of scrapping the VFA, he could not overlook the US' insults to his administration after lawmakers pushed for sanctions against Philippine officials involved in extrajudicial killings and the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

Duterte said US President Donald Trump, along with other top officials, were trying to prevent the abrogation of the VFA, which he was bent on carrying out.

"I'll make it public because public official ako: Si Trump pati 'yung others are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement. Sabi ko, ayaw ko. One [reason] is that, napakabastos na 'yung Amerikano. Talagang sobrang bastos," Duterte said in a speech before local chief executives.

(I'll make it public since I'm a public official: Trump and the others are trying to save the Visiting Forces Agreement. I said I don't want to. One reason is that the Americans are very rude. They are extremely rude.)

Duterte earlier said he wanted the Philippines' long-standing defense pact with the Americans dead after the US government canceled the visa of his former police chief and now-Senator Ronald dela Rosa.

He later said he was serious about his decision, adding his choice to do so was anchored on the US lawmaker's moves to impose travel and financial restrictions on Philippine officials.

"Imagine demanding the release of De Lima and their threat that we will not receive aid and (their threat) that all persons who had a hand in the imprisonment of De Lima will not be allowed to go to the United States... Putang ina, ano ba nasa Amerika na ganunin mo ako? (Son of a bitch, what is there in America for you to disrespect me like that?)" Duterte said.

"'Yan ang lamentation ko. Sobra sila uminsulto kasi. Sobra na," he added. (That is my lamentation. They insulted me too much. It's too much.)

Risky decision. Duterte's insistence on abrogating the VFA comes amid criticism he was putting the VFA on the line over a political ally’s visa woes. Top officials such as Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's earlier warned of the far-reaching consequences if the Philippines were to abrogate the VFA.

Ratified in 1999, the VFA provides a legal framework for the presence of US military troops in the Philippines and gives substance to the Philippines' and US' 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

Locsin earlier told a Senate panel the VFA has served as a deterrent to Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea; facilitated assistance in huge disasters; helped the Philippine military modernize and combat terror; and promoted economic ties not only with the US but its allies, too. (READ: With threats to scrap VFA, Duterte gambles Philippines' security)

Despite this, Duterte insisted that when it comes to China, the Asian giant "(does) not mean harm if we do not do something that is harmful to them." Duterte has prioritized warmer ties with Beijing by dowplaying a decades-long sea dispute in exhange for loans and grants from Beijing.

Aside from this, the President also claimed the Philippines was less safe with the VFA as the US' prepositioning of assets in the country – made possible by the Enhanced Cooperation Development Agreement (EDCA) – made the country a target for attacks. He floated the possibility the Philippines would further be unsafe as he "really did not know...if there are nuclear arms in the Philippines brought in by the Americans."

The EDCA, though, is clear on its ban against the prepositioning of nuclear weapons. Section 6 in Article IV of the agreement specifically says "the prepositioned materiel shall not include nuclear weapons."

No US trip. During his speech, Duterte likewise reiterated he was not inclined to travel to the US for its special summit with Southeast Asian leaders in March.

Malacañang earlier disclosed Duterte and Trump were supposed to have a phone call, though it did not say what the two leaders would discuss. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

image