By Mark Angelo Mañez


MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte yesterday threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) immediately if he finds “hard information” that the United States has stored nuclear weapons in the Philippines.

But at the House of Representatives, key leaders threw their support for the Senate’s recommendation to keep the country’s VFA with the US under the new administration of President Joe Biden.

“I think it would be in our best interest to keep the status quo at this point, particularly before we sent the notice to abrogate the VFA during the Trump administration,” Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero said.

Asked about the possible effect of the delivery of China-made COVID-19 vaccines on Philippine foreign policy, Duterte said Beijing has been giving Manila everything but never asked for anything in return.

Beijing, however, has refused to honor an arbitral ruling awarding the Philippines sovereign rights over several areas in the West Philippine Sea, including Panganiban or Mischief Reef off Palawan, which the Chinese have turned into an artificial island with a military garrison since the shutdown of US bases in the Philippines.

The chairman of the House committee on labor also noted Beijing’s Coast Guard Law, which took effect last Feb. 1 and allows the Chinese Coast Guard, now under China’s military command, to use lethal force on foreign ships that do not obey orders to leave disputed waters.

Duterte said it was the US that wanted to establish a military base in the Philippines, a setup that he said would place Manila at risk. Washington has said it no longer wants permanent military basing arrangements but merely access to supply networks.

“I have made a declaration that we will adopt a foreign policy, which means to say that one, I assured China that I will not allow nuclear armaments of America to be stored in the Philippines. That’s what I said. I will not allow it not because it will antagonize China but it is in the Philippine Constitution which prohibits the presence of nuclear armaments in the country,” Duterte said.

“We are making a big gamble there because if there are no armaments  in the Philippines, if we only have what we need for counterinsurgency, we’re OK.  We do not need weapons that would fight other countries because we do not have it, the arms, and we do not want it,” he said.

Duterte warned that the war would start in the South China Sea if a conflict involving the US erupts.

“The first one to be hit will be the Philippines because their (US) bases are here, their firearms are stored everywhere in the Philippines. Maybe you don’t know, there are depots all around the Philippines,” he maintained.

“I told them, I cannot stop you because we have yet to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement but I am warning you that if I get hold of hard information that the nuclear armaments are here brought by you, I will immediately ask you to go out and I will terminate the VFA immediately,” he added.

Duterte threatened to scrap the VFA after the US canceled the visa of senator and former police chief Ronald dela Rosa.

The President, however, has postponed the abrogation of  VFA twice. He deferred the termination of the agreement in June, citing “political and other developments in the region.” The suspension was extended for another six months last November.

Earlier this month, Duterte demanded that the US “pay” the Philippines if it wants to keep the VFA.

Renewable VFA?

Romero pointed out that the planned VFA abrogation was decided under different circumstances and during an administration that has already been replaced, referring to Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump who lost his re-election bid last November.

“Perhaps, an extension would be the more prudent thing to do, but this time with a five-year program, where every year our counterparts in the US will have an assessment or review of sorts with our own defense secretary,” Romero said.

“This should include the transfer of modern warfare training and technologies as well as the introduction of new state-of-the-art equipment that the country can use to combat domestic and international threats,” he added.

His colleague in the 1Pacman party-list group, Rep. Eric Pineda, made the same pronouncement; so did Manila Teachers party-list Rep. Virgilio Lacson, who chairs the House committee on MSMEs.

“Having an ally like the US – who is just like a Big Brother to us – will be very crucial for us, primarily because we also need to have an appropriate response to what China has been doing in our territorial waters, not to mention their new Coast Guard laws,” Pineda said.

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