National interest, vax donation factors in keeping VFA: Palace

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque (Screengrab from RTVM)

MANILA – National interest and the United States’ (US) Covid-19 vaccine donation likely have factored in President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Malacañang said on Monday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this comment when asked if the US-donated vaccines may have pushed Duterte to retract the abrogation of VFA following his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III at Malacañang Palace in Manila on July 29.

“The President considered the totality of the recent situation and thorough assessment [of the agreement] based on national interest. By considering the totality of the circumstances, there is a good possibility that it was factored in the situation,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

Roque said another 3 million doses of Moderna donated by the US government are expected to be delivered to the Philippines on Aug. 3.

Last month, the US donated a total of 3,240,850 one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Philippines through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, a global initiative to support equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The US has donated at least 13.2 million Covid-19 vaccines to the Philippines, including 10 million doses through COVAX facility, according to the records from US Embassy in Manila.

Earlier, Roque said Duterte’s decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on “upholding the country’s strategic core interests, the clear definition of Philippine-US alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under [Mutual Defense Treaty].”

The VFA is 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 a passport and visa.

On the other hand, the 1951 MDT, the country’s sole and longest-running defense pact with another nation, aims to step up the defense and security cooperation between Philippine and US troops.

Duterte ordered the VFA’s revocation in February 2020.

The military pact was supposed to be officially scrapped in August last year, but its termination was suspended for three six-month periods.

The latest was in June this year when Duterte decided anew to extend the VFA’s validity for six more months. (PNA)

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