PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said the United States has been reaching out to the Philippine government for newer and stronger defense ties since the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.
“It came to the fore na yung alitan ko sa kanila, tinanggal ko ‘yung VFA, sila naman ngayon ang lapit ng lapit (that after my rift with them and the termination of VFA, they are now trying to make amends),” Duterte said in a speech delivered at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall on Tuesday, March 3.
Duterte also revealed that he had a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim as well as Ambassador of the Philippines to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez, but dismissed the possibility of the U.S. holding him accountable over the reported deaths of drug personalities in the country due to his war against illegal drugs.
He also reiterated to Kim that he needed to get things done with the VFA to prove a point that he is saving the country from illegal drugs.
“Sinabi ko sa kanya (I told him), ‘I don’t… Iyang extrajudicial killing, wala akong pakialam diyan (I don’t care about extrajudicial killing). You can bring on the charges you want, but I will stick to my guns. I will kill anybody (who) will tend to destroy my country,’” Duterte said.
“How could it be wrong, when can it be wrong pag magsabi ako (when I say), ‘Do not destroy my country because I will kill you? Who can debate with that? That is the preservation of my people,” he added.
Following Duterte’s order, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. sent the U.S. a notice to terminate the two-decade old VFA on February 11. The treaty is said to be terminated 180-days after the notice.
Romualdez, for his part, said there are ongoing negotiations between Manila and Washington to craft “something similar” to VFA.
However, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo stressed that the discussions are only “exploratory talks” since Romualdez was not given the authority by Duterte to negotiate with Kim to craft a new military agreement between the two countries.
The annual Balikatan, Filipino for shoulder-to-shoulder, considered the largest exercise between Filipino and American soldiers, is still scheduled to proceed this May.
“It will push through as scheduled. That is within the 180-day period so it will continue as scheduled,” Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, said at a press briefing on Wednesday (March 3).
The joint drill is set to include 6,529 Americans, 4,302 Filipinos and 44 Australians military personnel.
With the termination of the VFA, large-scale exercises like this would no longer be covered.
‘No potential president among new politicians’
Duterte said that he has not seen a potential president among the new crop of politicians.
“Wala pa ako nakita na new crop politicians dito sa ating bayan, frankly wala ako nakita, wala akong nakita na pwede talaga maging presidente (I have not seen anyone among the new crop of politicians in our country, frankly none, I have not seen anyone who can become president),” he said Tuesday.
“Alam mo, sa totoo lang, presidente ka, di ka marunong pumatay at takot ka mamatay, huwag ka na magpresidente. Wala mangyayari sa iyo. Wala mangyayari sa bayan (If you are president and you don’t know how to kill or die, do not run for president. Nothing will happen to you or the country),” he added.
The president also admitted that he is scared for the next generation.
“I am just protecting our grandchildren…I’m trying to protect the generation of Filipinos especially the next batch, our children,” he said.
He added, “The problem is I cannot gamble the next generation. It would be difficult. I have a lot of grandchildren. I have 11. I am nervous about what will happen to them tomorrow so let us help each other.”