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US compensation may be used versus pandemic — palace

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FILE PHOTO of Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. — PCOO

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

THE PRESIDENTIAL palace on Monday said the Philippines could use US compensation in exchange for a visiting forces agreement (VFA) to fight the coronavirus and boost social services.

“This is pushing for the national interest of Filipinos,” presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told an online news briefing. “Why can’t we ask for payment?”

He said seeking payment is no different from the fact that Americans pay Turkey and Pakistan in exchange for the presence of US troops there.

“We want just compensation for it,” Mr. Roque said. “Not change, not dilapidated equipment,” he added, referring to donated military equipment from the US in the past years..

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The Philippines was getting $3.9 billion from the US compared with Pakistan’s $16 billion, he said, citing a study from think tank Stimson Center. “We should get something similar or close to that amount but definitely, not the amount we’re currently getting.”

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week said Washington should pay if it wanted to keep its visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the Philippines. Mr. Duterte suspended the military pact, which lays down the rules for the deployment of troops for war games, last year.

“You want the visiting forces agreement done? Well, you have to pay,” he said in a speech before Filipinos at a military airbase.

Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo likened the President’s remark to “extortion.” Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, who heads the Senate national defense committee, said Philippine officials should be “diplomatic and statesmanlike” in dealing with its former colonizer.

The Philippine military largely favors the VFA so Mr. Duterte “can’t suddenly stop the process without good reason,” Herman Joseph S. Kraft, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Political Science department, said in a Viber message.

Given the President’s “subservience to China,” the statement was a show for the Chinese leadership “that he himself  is not in favor of this negotiation,” he said.  “But he just can’t call it off.”

Antonio Contreras, a political science professor at the De La Salle University, said the country’s problem with terrorism would force it to keep its military alliance with the US.

“The US can’t let us go just like that,” he said via Zoom Meetings. “We are strategic to their fight against terrorism. And the Philippines, being concerned so much about terrorism, also won’t let go easily.”

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