MANILA, Philippines – The United States’ explanation about its role in the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff between the Philippines and China will factor into President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision on the fate of the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Duterte, in an interview with SMNI’s “Exclusive” aired Tuesday night, said he wanted to hear the reason why the US did nothing when Chinese vessels decided to stay put in Scarborough Shoal in 2012.
“Ito ngayong VFA ang problema. May malaking problema tayo dito kasi nga nangyari itong nag-broker ang Amerika tapos nag-atras tayo. Bakit ang China hindi nila pinilit na mag-atras?
(VFA is the problem. We have a big problem because America brokered a deal and ordered us to withdraw our ships. Why did it not force China to withdraw?)” he said.
Duterte said he would only reconsider the Philippines’ military pact with the US once Washington can explain this.
“Unless they can explain it to me in a very simple way na maintindihan ng buong Pilipinas (that the entire Philippines would understand), then I can begin to talk about the (VFA). Pero kapag hindi medyo malabo (If not, it’s unlikely to happen),” he said.
There was an agreement brokered by the US in 2012 for the Philippines and China to withdraw their ships from Scarborough Shoal to resolve the standoff in the area.
The Philippine vessels left the Scarborough Shoal, but Chinese ships stayed in the disputed waters.
In a public address delivered on May 14, Duterte made a firm stance that he would never let Filipino troops participate in any war with the US under his watch. He made the remarks as he slammed anew the US’ role in the withdrawal of Philippine vessels from Scarborough Shoal in 2012 amid a standoff with China.
On February 12, the President told the US to “pay” first before he reconsiders his decision to revoke the VFA, saying there is a need to give the Philippines something in return because it is the “nearest, possible and convenient outpost” near China.
However, Duterte on February 24 admitted that he could not decide whether to enforce or suspend anew the termination of VFA.
The VFA is a 1998 military pact between Manila and Washington that authorizes American troops participating in joint military drills to visit the Philippines sans passport and visa.
The Philippines formally notified the US about its intent to revoke the VFA in February 2020.
However, the VFA remains in effect after Duterte ordered on June 1 last year the suspension of its termination “in light of political and other developments in the region.”
The Philippines extended in November last year the suspension of VFA termination for another six months.
Foreign policy ‘neutral’
Despite his apparent gripe about the US’ supposed inaction to help the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China, Duterte said his independent foreign policy of being “friend to all, enemy to none” stands.
He assured that he would not give preferential treatment to any country.
“Foreign policy is just being neutral. But ako (me, I am) neutral in the sense that I do not favor one country for the other nor would I allow any of these countries to be in the Philippines to establish itong mga (those) military bases,” he said.
Duterte, however, stressed the need for the US to “come clean.”
“America must come clean. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. Ngayon kung makiusap sila (If they make a request), what is the fiasco all about.”