Duterte tells Robredo: You do not know your role in government

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte again took aim at Vice President Leni Robredo, this time over her statement that asking the US to pay to retain the Visiting Forces Agreement was "extortion."

In his weekly address, Duterte said Robredo should stop commenting because the US owed the country.

"Itong kay Robredo, sabi ko nga ma'am, kung ikaw ang presidente, hindi mo alam ang trabaho mo, dapat alam mo 'yan kasi abogado ka. You should not open your mouth when we are negotiating because maraming kasalanan ang Amerika sa atin," Duterte said.

[Translation: With Robredo, I say ma'am, if you become president you should know your job because you are a lawyer. You should not open your mouth when we are negotiating because America has a lot of sins against us.]

Duterte also reiterated that Robredo is unfit to be president.

"I'm sorry to say, you are not really qualified to run for president. You do not know your role in this government... Foreign relations with other countries is vested on the president alone," he said.

On her radio show on Sunday, Robredo criticized Duterte's pronouncement in his speech last week that US responsibility in the VFA "does not come free."

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

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

"Every time she opens her mouth...she forgets that she's a lawyer. And being a lawyer, she should know that the Constitution says that...that is my function. That is not her function. At kung anong gusto kong sabihin para sa aking bayan, may purpose 'yan. Hindi kasi nila alam (And what I want to say for my country has a purpose. They don't know that)," Duterte said.

The President also said Subic was slowly being turned into an American base. But he did not give details on this, only saying he has reports given by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In a separate press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government was not extorting money from the US. 

"Sa mga nagsasabing extortion, hindi po iyan extortion. 'Yan po ay pagtaguyod ng national na interes ng mga Pilipino, at dahil marami po tayong gastusin lalong lalo na sa COVID-19, bakit di tayo sumingil?" Roque said.

[Translation: To those who have been claiming it's extortion, it is not extortion. We are upholding the national interest of Filipinos because we have a lot of COVID-19 expenses, so why can't we ask for compensation?]

Roque said the country should even be getting an amount close to the $16 billion compensation of Pakistan, which is equivalent to over P766 billion. Citing a study by US-based think tank Stimson Center on counterterrorism assistance, he noted that the country has only been getting over $3.9 billion, or more than P186 billion, as of 2017.

Duterte also called out Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who had also criticized his statement the US will "have to pay" to keep the VFA. But the President said he could "forgive" Lacson, because he is not a lawyer.