Lacson lauds Duterte for seeking opinions on VFA
Sen. Panfilo Lacson lauded President Duterte for humbly seeking the opinion of the Filipino people on the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States although he is the legally designated architect of Philippine foreign policy.
“The best decisions are those made not out of hubris, but the humility of listening to as many people and try get a bit of what they have to say,” Lacson said in a statement two weeks after a public spat over the VFA that showed the legal issues underlying the agreement.
“There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain in listening to others … What matters most is that our national interest, dignity and self-respect will be upheld,” he added.
The President and Lacson figured in a public exchange of barbs on Feb. 16 after the senator said that Mr. Duterte’s demand for the United States to pay for the extension of the VFA sounded like extortion and that the Senate had a say on the fate of the country’s international agreements.
Mr. Duterte responded that he was the architect of Philippine foreign policy and Lacson had nothing to do with it.
The exchange again raised questions on the nature of the VFA because, unlike the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the US Senate never advised ratification of the VFA nor was it officially ratified by the US president. On Mr. Duterte’s orders, the Philippines served on Washington last year a notice of termination of the VFA but its implementation was suspended twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Feb. 11, around the same time Mr. Duterte made the remark on US payments for the VFA extension, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines and the United States had begun closed-door discussions on the status of the VFA.
Moreover, the President’s remarks on the VFA were made in the context of an unprecedented diplomatic drive to improve relations with China and Russia, which Mr. Duterte himself described as a “new spring.”
But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez disagreed and said Filipinos did not care much for China and preferred closer ties with the United States.
“I think most Filipinos not only support the [VFA], but want the government to strengthen Philippine-US relations,” he said.
“Our people have a natural affinity with America, not only because of our decades of partnership but also because of our close cultural and social ties … America is also home for millions of Filipinos,” Rodriguez said. There are an estimated 4 million Filipino-Americans residing in the United States.
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