Duterte’s fame deflected ‘massive backlash’ on VFA repeal – analyst
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity has turned aside broad adverse reactions on the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
This was the observation of political science professor and columnist Richard Heydarian, who cited Friday a survey from the Pew Research Center that showed an apparent big shift in the attitude Filipinos towards China’s activities from when Benigno S. Aquino was President and now that Duterte is the top leader of the land.
Some have seen the VFA termination as largely beneficial to China and its aggressive stance in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Former Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio even pointed out that the 20-year-old military pact had China calculating its moves in the disputed waters because VFA has facilitated the transfer of military equipment in the area.
“This is a survey from the Pew Research Center, it shows a very interesting development. Towards the [tail end] of the Aquino administration, more Filipinos prefer confrontation of China rather than the engagement of China. Within two years, a year of President Duterte in office, you see almost a reversal of that,” Heydarian said during a forum about the VFA termination in Makati City.
“More Filipinos would rather have a strong economic relationship with China than being tough on China and sacrifice the necessary economics that we can get,” he added.
According to Heydarian, he also has talked with several people – many of whom are supporters of Duterte – and they supposedly agreed on whatever Duterte’s opinion is, even in terms of foreign policy like his views on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“So this will explain to you why even (if) we have this, you don’t see a massive popular backlash. And I had many experiences where I was having a random debate with several taxi drivers about UNCLOS and they will tell you that this is what we heard from President Duterte, he kind of makes sense, he is just being practical,” Heydarian noted.
“What is the message here? Yes, maybe we don’t like China, we like Americans, maybe. But you know, let’s be practical, maybe we can crack a deal with the Chinese even if we don’t like them. This is why you don’t see a significant social-wide backlash against President Duterte’s statements against the US or call for pragmatic engagement with China,” he added.
On February 11, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has formally sent the notice of VFA abrogation to the US government. The United States Embassy in the Philippines has acknowledged receipt of the notice from DFA.
Duterte’s decision to revoke VFA came after the US visa of his staunch ally, top cop and now Senator Ronald dela Rosa, was canceled.
Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the Philippine government is exploring ways to come up with a replacement to the VFA that would be acceptable to Duterte.
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