President Rodrigo Duterte is still “pondering” on the possible reconsideration of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) after the White House announced that it will be giving the country free surplus of Covid-19 vaccines, Malacañang said on Monday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said it is best to wait for Duterte himself to announce his decision on the VFA’s fate since the vaccines from the US have yet to reach the Philippines.
“Di pa po natin alam kung mayroon talagang darating at kung magkano o ilan yung darating. So antayin po muna natin dumating (We still don’t know if there will be vaccines that will come, how much or how many are coming. So let’s just wait for them to arrive),” he said in a Palace press briefing.
Roque, however, noted that he had no information whether the free surplus vaccine doses would change Duterte’s mind about the VFA.
“I think the President has been pondering on the issue and has the bigger framework of analysis and let’s just wait for his decision because he’s the only one who can decide on this matter,” he added.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose “Babe” Romualdez, in a pre-recorded interview with Roque, confirmed that the Philippines will get some Covid-19 shots from the first batch of 80 million doses to be donated by the US to other countries.
“The Philippines definitely will receive on the first batch of this 80 million that (US President Joe) Biden will announce sometime this week,” he said.
He said the US is still “hopeful” that Duterte would not push through with the VFA termination, but noted that it also is ready to accept whatever decision the Filipino leader will make.
Romualdez said the Philippines continues to be an “important ally” of the US and it would like to keep it that way.
“They have reached out to us on helping us in every way they can,” he said.
He also noted that the 75th anniversary of Philippines-US diplomatic relations on July 4 “will probably be the more or less the trigger” for this conversation between Duterte and Biden to happen.
On Feb. 11, 2020, Duterte revoked the VFA, a 1998 military deal signed by Manila and Washington which allows American troops to join military drills in the Philippines sans the need to secure passport and visa.
The VFA was supposed to be effectively abrogated in August last year, but Duterte on June 1 of the same year ordered the suspension of VFA termination for six months because of “political and other developments in the region”.
The Philippines extended in November last year the suspension of VFA termination for another six months. PNA.GOV.PH