MANILA – Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on Sunday insisted that those criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s demand for the United States (US) to pay the Philippines for hosting American troops should allow the chief executive to “strategize” since it was part of his job.
While acknowledging critics’ right to free speech, Panelo said their sentiments would give the US the impression that there is disunity among Filipinos.
He reiterated that the President is the chief architect of foreign policy as mandated by the Constitution and that he can enter into treaties and to make these treaties effective before it goes to Congress for its concurrence.
“Pero during the time na nakikipag-negotiate siya e, prudence and common sense require na yung mga nandiyan sa Senado o yung nandito sa gobyerno ay sumuporta muna kayo kasi nga yung Presidente dumidiskarte, manuevering nga e (But during the time he is into negotiation, prudence and common sense require that those in the Senate and those in the government support the President while he is strategizing, he’s maneuvering),” he said in his Counterpoint program.
Panelo said Duterte is only upholding national interest in asking a higher amount of compensation.
“Huwag niyo muna guluhin, huwag niyo muna siraan. Kasi nga pag ginagawa po ninyo ‘yun, siyempre nakakarating dahil ina-announce mo. ‘Yun namang mga peryodista natin siyempre ibabalita rin naman ‘yan. Pag nalaman nila na di tayo nagkakaisa dito, gagamitin nila (Don’t mess it up, don’t destroy it. Because if you do that. Of course, it reaches other countries because journalists report them. If they find out we’re not united, they’ll use it against us),” he added.
Panelo hit back at a Manila Standard editorial for describing his statement that one needs to be elected president before criticizing the administration’s foreign policy initiatives as “silly and childish.”
“If you are really insisting that this President is wrong, o e di ikaw mag Presidente. Kaya lang natin sinasabi na tumahimik muna kayo kasi nga nagne-negotiate e (then you should be President. That’s why we’re asking critics to stay quiet first is because we’re negotiating),” he said.
He said since the US is providing the Philippines with a smaller military aid compared to other Asian countries, it is only natural for the President to demand more.
“Ang gusto ni Presidente tratuhin tayo ng equal. Tratuhin tayo fairly, pareho ng pagtrato niya dun sa mga ibang bansa na ginagamit ang kanilang mga lugar at binbayaran nila ng wasto. Tayo ang binibigay sa atin, tira (What the President wants is that we are treated fairly, just like how he treats other countries whose land is being used and paid for fairly. What they’re giving us is loose change),” he said.
Last Feb. 12, Duterte said the US should “pay” the Philippines first before he reconsiders another suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a defense deal which gives American troops the privilege to visit the Philippines without visa and passport.
Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA in February last year after the US revoked the visa of his close ally Senator Ronald Dela Rosa.
He suspended the termination of the VFA in June 2020 due to “political and other developments in the region.”
Last month, the government suspended the termination of the agreement anew while negotiations are ongoing. (PNA)