The Office of the President of the Philippines has defended Rodrigo Duterte’s demand for payment from the US to retain the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Manila.
Duterte’s spokesperson, Harry Roque, said during a press briefing on Monday that the Philippines president had “the nation’s interest in mind” when he made his remarks.
“It was not extortion but a just demand for better compensation for the continued presence of American troops and equipment in the country,” Harry Roque said.
“This is pushing for the national interest of Filipinos and since there are a lot of expenses to address COVID-19,” he said.
Duterte came under heavy criticism for his remarks on Saturday night, with several commentators calling his latest tirade against the VFA “embarrassing” and akin to the Philippines “extorting money from its long-time ally.”
The VFA provides a legal framework through which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.
Experts say that without it other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), cannot be implemented.
Duterte notified Washington in February last year that he was canceling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa. But he has extended the termination process, which US President Joe Biden’s administration will now oversee.
Representatives from both countries have been meeting to iron out differences over the military deal.
However, citing a 2018 study by the Stimson Center, Roque said that the Philippines was “getting less” in terms of military assistance from Washington compared to other countries such as Pakistan who were “relatively new allies” of the US
The study, “Counterterrorism Spending: Protecting America While Promoting Efficiencies and Accountability,” showed the amount sent in counterterrorism aid to 12 countries by the US, from 2002 to 2017.
Afghanistan topped the list with $97.8 billion, followed by Pakistan with $16.4 billion, while the Philippines remained at the bottom with $3.9 billion.
According to Roque, the amount received by the Philippines was “small change compared to what the other countries got, for instance, Pakistan.”
“When did they (Pakistan) become an ally of the United States? They (Pakistan) don’t have any basis to say they have long-standing ties with America, unlike Filipinos who died (alongside their American counterparts) during World War II in the Death March. But how much is the US giving to Pakistan? $16.4 billion.”