The Palace on Thursday said the time was right for the United States to accept President Duterte’s demand that the Philippines be paid for continuing their Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
In a statement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President had already made up his mind to abrogate the treaty so the United States should take the opportunity to convince him otherwise.
“If they want VFA to continue, now is the chance because another signing of the deal is needed,” Roque said in Filipino. “Perhaps, they can say how much they can give. If they have nothing to pay, that’s fine.”
The Palace had earlier said the United States should pay the Philippines some $16 billion, the same amount in assistance it gave to Pakistan.
Duterte said the US should give the country something in return, especially since the Philippines is the “nearest, possible, and convenient outpost” should a war break out.
Duterte abrogated the VFA on Feb. 11, 2020. However, he put a hold on the termination on June 1 last year “in light of political and other developments in the region.”
On Feb. 8, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Philippine and US officials will meet this month to iron out differences over the VFA.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the military should be able to stand on its own if the VFA with the United States comes to an end.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, continued his word war with chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo, saying he would defend the President, right or wrong.
After Panelo mocked Lacson for “misunderstanding” the Constitution, the senator blasted administration officials for saying senators had “nothing to do” with the VFA.
“Whether or not an international agreement or a treaty has already been made valid and effective, it is still wrong to assert that a sitting senator and even an ordinary citizen of this country has no more freedom to express his opinion with something that concerns our national interest,” Lacson said.
Taking a page from the President, Senator Risa Hontiveros renewed her call for the Chinese government to pay up for the wealth and marine life stolen from the West Philippine Sea due to Beijing’s adventurism in Philippine waters.
“Time to pay up. The Chinese Embassy had earlier refused to pay when we exacted payment in the amount of more than P200 billion due to the destruction in WPS since 2013,” Hontiveros said.
Citing a study published by the international journal Ecosystem Services last year, she said China did about P231.7 billion worth of damage to Philippine reefs over seven years.
The value per coral reef was pegged at P18 million, and this amount was multiplied by 1,850 hectares of reef ecosystems in Panatag and Spratlys that have been damaged by China.
Hontiveros also said the looted fish catch could come to a total of P644 billion, by one estimate.
Last year, Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 369 to have China foot the bill of the country’s COVID-19 response by paying the over P200 billion worth of reparations owed to the Philippines due to its activities in the WPS. She said this amount should now be updated to include the recent computations.
"We cannot take back the marine resources that China has destroyed in the WPS. Let us go after China,” she said.
Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had said that livelihoods of 350,000 fishermen have been harmed by China’s presence in the WPS.
The senator emphasized that Filipinos have the legitimate right to demand reparations.
In fact, Japan already paid the Philippines reparations for, among others, the destruction of Manila during World War II.
The United States also paid the Philippines after the USS Guardian gashed corals around the Sulu Sea in 2015.
“We have to find a way to make China pay. Other nations paid, why not China? Is it because of a ‘special relationship’?” she asked.