Duterte undecided on fate of VFA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 24) — President Rodrigo Duterte remains undecided on what he will do with the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA.

The President emphasized he wants to hear the Filipino people's opinion first before taking any course of action.

"I have not decided yet on what to do, meaning to say to abrogate or renew, because I want to hear the people," Duterte said.

Duterte added citizens are free to call the government's 8888 hotline to express their sentiments on the VFA.

The VFA is a 1998 agreement between Manila and Washington on the protocol for American military personnel in the country. It is seen to support the Mutual Defense Treaty, another agreement between the Philippines and the US 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.

Among its controversial provisions are the lax visa and passport policies for American troops and the authority granted to the US government to retain jurisdiction over its soldiers if ever they commit crimes on Philippine soil.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

In his address to troops at Clark Air Base last February 12, Duterte demanded the US government "to pay" if it wants to keep the VFA. He then explained in his February 15 national address that the US owed the country, as he reacted to Vice President Leni Robredo's statement comparing his demand to "extortion."

Last year, the Philippines sent the US a notice to terminate the VFA, a move that stemmed from the cancellation of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's visa due to alleged extrajudicial killings during his term as Philippine National Police chief from 2016 to 2018.

Duterte suspended the abrogation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a speech in December, however, he threatened to push through with its termination if the US fails to deliver at least 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines.