MALACAÑANG on Sunday clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte was just making a warning when he told the United States to prepare for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces of Agreement (VFA).
“It was a warning. It was really something the President said he will void,” Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said in an interview with state-owned dzRB.
In a speech after arriving from Singapore early on Saturday, President Duterte told the US to prepare for the revocation of the VFA, after US aid agency Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) deferred a decision on a new multi-year development assistance package for the Philippines.
The VFA, signed by Manila and Washington in 1998, governs the presence of US troops in the country.
“We will wait for the next President’s move and what the advisers can say,” Banaag said, referring to US President-elect Donald Trump who will replace President Barack Obama on January 20.
President Duterte said on Saturday the Philippines would survive “without American money,” and that China and Russia could fill the gap.
“Bye-bye, America,” Duterte said, after threatening to end the VFA. “Tit-for-tat. If you can do this, so do we, it ain’t one-way traffic.”
The MCC decision reflects “significant concerns around rule of law and civil liberties in the Philippines,” US embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina said on Thursday.
The US government set up the MCC to promote economic growth and reduce poverty around the world.
However, countries can only qualify if they “demonstrate a commitment to just and democratic governance, investments in its people, and economic freedom,” according to the corporation’s website.
The United States has been a vocal critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed about 5,000 lives since he took office in late June, with Obama urging Duterte to prosecute it “the right way.”