PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte is threatening to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) anew if he finds “hard information” that the United States has stored nuclear weapons in the country.
“I am warning you that if I get hold of a hard information that nuclear armaments are here brought by you, I will immediately ask you to go out and I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement ora mismo (right now),” the president said during a press conference at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Sunday, February 28.
According to Duterte, the Philippine Constitution prohibits the presence of nuclear armaments in the country.
“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 added.
Duterte noted that the Philippines will be the first country to get hit should a war break out between the U.S. and its enemy.
“Kung magka-giyera (if a war breaks out) and it will surely start maybe in the theater of war would be the Spratly and China Sea. Katabi lang tayo. Pangasinan, it’s just — nakaharap. Maraming probinsiya nandiyan. Alam mo kung may armaments sila dito ang unang tatamaan ‘yon. Saan? Sa Pilipinas (We’re just beside it. Pangasinan, it’s just — in front. There are so many provinces there. You know if they have armaments here we’ll be first to get hit. Where? The Philippines),” he said.
He also claimed that the U.S. has “depots” for their weapons in the Philippines.
“The arms are stored everywhere in the Philippines, baka hindi niyo alam (in case you don’t know). May mga depots (They have depots) all around the Philippines,” said Duterte.
“Sinabi ko sa kanila (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.
Last week, Duterte admitted that he doesn’t know whether to renew or abrogate the agreement with the United States, adding that he wants to hear Filipino public’s sentiment.
“I must be frank, I do not keep secrets to the people. I have not yet decided on what to do.
Meaning to say, to abrogate or renew because I want to hear the people,” he said in a public address aired on February 24.
“I want the narratives to come up, not necessarily from the [lawmakers]. Well, of course, they count very much pero hindi limitado dito sa (but it is not limited to) Congress,” he added.
Previously, he said the U.S. would have to “pay” to keep the VFA from being terminated.
“I would like to put on notice if there’s an American agent here that from now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done? Well, you have to pay,” Duterte said in his speech on February 12 at Clark Air Base in Pampanga.
The VFA, which came into force in 1999, covers the conduct of U.S. soldiers in the Philippines. Among the provisions of the deal include relaxed visa and passport policies for U.S. troops, and the rights of the U.S. government to retain its jurisdiction over its military personnel when they commit crimes in the Philippines.
In February 2020, the Philippines sent the U.S. a notice terminating the VFA reportedly after the U.S. canceled Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa’s visa.
The termination was later suspended in June “in light of political and other developments in the region,” and the suspension was extended in November for another six months to enable the Philippines and the U.S. to find a more enhanced, mutually beneficial, mutually agreeable, and more effective and lasting arrangement on how to move forward in their mutual defense.
In December, the president threatened to continue with the VFA’s termination if the U.S. did not extend at least 20 million vaccines to the Philippines.