'Parang extortion': Robredo slams Duterte's VFA threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) — For Vice President Leni Robredo, the recent demand of President Rodrigo Duterte to the United States to "pay up" in order to retain the Visiting Forces Agreement sounded like an outright "extortion."

In her radio show Biserbisyong Leni over RMN-DZXL, Robredo on Sunday lamented Duterte's pronouncement in his speech last week that the U.S. responsibility in the agreement "does not come free."

"Parang extortion lang. Parang kriminal eh, kung gusto mo nito magbayad ka muna," Robredo said.

[Translation: It sounded like an extortion. It seemed like an act of a criminal asking someone to pay him to get what the other wants.]

Robredo stressed that this is not how the Philippines should treat the U.S., citing its friendly relations that withstood "many generations." She added that the administration must lay down concrete reasons for not renewing the VFA without necessarily asking for money.

"Para sa akin, nakakahiya. Parang nang-eextort tayo. Sa akin, kapag sinabi nating ayaw nating i-renew 'yung VFA, ilatag natin kung bakit. Ipakita natin bakit ba hindi siya nakakabuti sa atin," she said. "Hindi 'yung pera ang consideration."

[Translation: For me, it's embarrassing. It looks like we're extorting from them. If we do not want to renew VFA, state the proper reasons. Let us show them why it will not be good for us. We should not put money as the prime consideration.]

Separately, Sen. Panfilo Lacson expressed a similar sentiment also on Sunday but acknowledged that Duterte may have only wanted to get a "fair shake" of the agreement. In a now-deleted Twitter post, the senator said asking for such payments may give an impression that the country is a "nation of extortionists."

"There could be a more diplomatic, decent way of getting the same desired results," he noted.

On Friday, Duterte addressed troops at Clark Air Base in Pampanga: "I'd like to put on notice if there is an American agent here that from now on... You want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? You have to pay."

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between the Philippines and the United States on the protocol for American military personnel in the country. It is seen to support the Mutual Defense Treaty, another agreement between the two countries which guarantees that the two countries will provide military aid to each other in case their metropolitan areas or territories in the Pacific are attacked by a foreign force.

The U.S. earlier sent a notice to terminate the agreement, citing human rights abuses in the country. Duterte suspended the abrogation amid the coronavirus pandemic but later on threatened to push through with its termination if the U.S. fails to deliver at least 20 million vaccine doses for the Philippines.

READ: Duterte asks US 'to pay' for VFA

In the same speech last Friday, Duterte also stressed that he can't badmouth China amid controversial issues, including the Philippines' sovereign rights over the disputed South China Sea, because the country cannot afford to go to war against Beijing. He said he hopes that the U.S. would also understand his stance because of the Philippines' proximity to Chinese outposts in the South China Sea.

"Hindi naman tayo nakikipag-away, pinaglalaban lang natin iyong dapat na nasa atin....Kapag hindi natin naipaglaban ito dahil takot tayo sa kanila, nakakahiya naman sa atin," Robredo said, reacting to the President's remark.

[Translation: We are not fighting with them, we are just fighting for what is rightfully ours. If we do not defend this because we are afraid of them, it would be embarrassing for us.]

Beijing continues to reject the Philippines' 2016 arbitration win over the West Philippine Sea. The U.S. government previously imposed sanctions on Chinese companies militarizing resources and helping the country advance its territorial claims in the disputed territory.

CNN Philippines' Eimor Santos contributed to this report.