Fate of VFA hangs as Duterte awaits US explanation on Scarborough deal

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — President Rodrigo Duterte wants the United States to explain its actions on the deal it brokered between the Philippines and China before he decides on the fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

On Tuesday, he said the US needs to explain why it didn't pressure China into withdrawing its ships from Scarborough Shoal despite the Philippines' adherence to the 2012 agreement.

"Ito ngayong VFA ang problema. May malaking problema tayo dito kasi nga nangyari itong broker ang Amerika tapos nag-atras tayo. Bakit ang China hindi nila pinilit na mag-atras rin? Unless they can explain it to me in a very simple way na maintindihan ng buong Pilipinas, then I can begin to talk about their foreign forces," he said during his interview with Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

[Translation: The VFA is a problem. This is a problem because America brokered it so we withdrew. Why didn't they force China to withdraw, too? Unless US can explain it in a simple way, only then will I start talking to them about foreign forces.]

Until then, he said he will put aside his decision on the military agreement providing the legal framework for the presence of American troops in the Philippines as they conduct joint military exercises.

"'Pag hindi, medyo malabo. Malabo, malabo ‘yan. Sobra tayong binabastos ng Amerikano talaga," he added.

[Translation: If not, the VFA is unsure. The Americans are really disrespecting us.]

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario previously reminded Duterte that it was Chinese President Xi Jinping who "deceitfully breached" the agreement mediated by the United States to jointly withdraw all ships in the area following a standoff in Scarborough.

On Feb. 11, 2020, on Duterte's order, the Department of Foreign Affairs notified the US that the Philippines would terminate the two-decade-old agreement. The termination process, however, was suspended in June last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging threats in the South China Sea. The Philippine government in November 2020 extended the suspension for another six months or until August 2021.

Philippine and US officials recently concluded talks on the VFA.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said last week Duterte's decision "may come anytime now." He said he was optimistic the President will accept the "improved" version of the agreement, but dd not disclose details.