By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer

“Hindi po iyan extortion.”

Malacañang said this on Monday after President Duterte remarked that the United States should pay to reconsider the decision of abrogating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), adding the payment can be utilized in the Philippines’ coronavirus outbreak response.

“Sa mga nagsasabing extortion, hindi po iyan extortion. ‘Yan po ay isang pagtaguyod ng pang-nasyonal na interes ng mga Pilipino at dahil marami po tayong gastusin lalong lalo na sa Covid-19, bakit hindi tayo sumingil?” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an online Palace briefing.

“Nang sa ganun, yung perang makukuha natin, magamit natin para sa Covid response, para sa libreng pakain ng mga estudyante, para sa Universal Health Care,” Roque added.

Vice President Leni Robredo earlier likened Duterte’s pronouncements to “extortion,” as she suggested that the disadvantages of the VFA be laid out to explain why the country wants to abrogate the military pact.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson tweeted that “diplomatic and statesmanlike” talks are preferable in addressing the VFA.

Citing a study from Stimson Center, Roque said the Philippines should be getting an amount similar to Pakistan in allowing the American military presence in the nation.

“Base sa pag-aaral na ito, ang nakuha po natin ay $3.9 billion. Malaki po ba yan? Naku, barya po yan kung ikukumpara doon sa mga nakukuha ng ibang bansa,” Roque said.

“Pakistan got $16 billion. We think we should get something similar or close to that amount but definitely, not the amount we’re currently getting,” he added.

In December last year, Duterte said he would continue to abrogate VFA if the US could not provide the country with its own coronavirus vaccines.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. then said the two countries will iron out their differences over the agreement by this month.

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, provides a mechanism for visiting American soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.

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