As if making a pivot towards the United States amid China’s posturing in disputed waters, President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday thanked US President Joe Biden for donating to the Philippines vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
“I would like to thank President of the United States, [Joe] Biden, the US government, and the people of America for not forgetting us,” Duterte said in his Talk to the People.
Duterte made the remark as he is set to personally welcome the arrival of 3 million doses of Moderna donated by the US government on August 3.
“Pasalamat tayo sa kanila. May naibigay naman ako (Let us thank them. I gave them) concession. I conceded to the continuance of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” Duterte said. “Do not forget us because we share, we share, the same outlook sa geopolitics dito (here), specifically, in Southeast Asia.”
The Philippines has so far received 34,275,740 doses of Covid-19 vaccine and administered a total of 20,863,544 doses.
In a Palace press briefing on Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the national interest and the US government’s Covid-19 vaccine donation likely have factored in Duterte’s decision to keep the VFA.
“The President considered the totality of the recent situation and thorough assessment [of the agreement] based on national interest. By considering the totality of the circumstances, there is a good possibility that it was factored in the situation,” Roque said.
Duterte met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III at the Malacañang Palace in Manila on July 29.
Last month, the US donated a total of 3,240,850 one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Philippines through Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, a global initiative to support equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The US government has donated at least 13.2 million Covid-19 vaccines to the Philippines, including 10 million doses through COVAX facility, according to the records from US Embassy in Manila.
Roque earlier said Duterte’s decision to recall the abrogation of VFA is based on “upholding the country’s strategic core interests, the clear definition of Philippine-US alliance as one between sovereign equals, and clarity of US position on its obligations and commitments under [Mutual Defense Treaty].”
The VFA is a 1998 military deal signed by Manila and Washington that allows American troops to join military drills in the Philippines sans the need to secure a passport and visa.
On the other hand, the 1951 MDT — country’s sole and longest-running defense pact with another nation — aims to step up the defense and security cooperation between Philippine and US troops.
Duterte ordered the VFA’s revocation in February 2020.
The military pact was supposed to be officially scrapped in August last year, but its termination was suspended for three six-month periods.
The latest was in June this year when Duterte decided anew to extend the VFA’s validity for six more months.