Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal

Philippine politicians on both sides of the aisle have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 14 February 2021

Philippines’ Duterte slammed for demanding Washington pay for US troop deal

  • Officials say “embarrassing” move “puts price tag on peace”
  • Others warned that the diplomatic relations of the Philippines, together with its sovereignty, should not come with a price tag

MANILA: Philippine politicians on both sides of the aisle have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US.
Duterte made the comments during a Philippine Air Force event on Friday, demanding that Washington pay Manila if it wants the more than two-decade-old VFA to remain in place.
One senator said the leader’s comments were “embarrassing” and gave the impression that the Philippines was a “nation of extortionists.”
Others warned that the diplomatic relations of the Philippines, together with its sovereignty, should not come with a price tag.
Catholic priest and peace advocate Elizeo Mercado Jr., a senior policy adviser at the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, told Arab News that “whatever the president’s decision on the VFA, it is outright wrong to put a price on it.
“Friendship has no price. To put a price tag on it is not good diplomacy and not good for the relationship with the US. The president might agree or disagree, or allow or disallow the VFA, but it should be based on a matter of principle, not on price,” Mercado told Arab News.
He added that the move was in “bad taste” and “makes us look like we are for sale.”
Mercado said: “If we are friends with the US, we can talk about the VFA. If we are not friends with the US, we can also talk about it respectfully, on the basis of principle.”
Vice President Leni Robredo, in a radio program, also criticized Duterte’s comments.
“It sounded like extortion. It sounded like a criminal saying, ‘if you want this, you have to pay first,’” she said, adding that the demands were “no way to treat a longtime ally.”
Robredo added: “It’s embarrassing. It’s like we are extorting them. For me, when we say we do not want to renew the VFA, then let’s lay down the reasons. Let us show them why it will not be good for us. Money should not be the consideration.”
The vice president said that relations should be based on the mutual benefit of both parties. “It’s not ‘we’re friends because you gave me money,’” she said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the country’s committee on national defense, said a diplomatic approach would have been more effective in sending a message to the US.
“Why use strong words to send a message to a longtime ally, when a civil, diplomatic and statesmanlike approach can be more effective?” Lacson said in a statement on Sunday.
He shared Mercado and Robredo’s sentiment that the president’s comments were in “bad taste.”
The previous day, Lacson warned that the Philippines needed the VFA — especially given recent Chinese intrusions into Philippine territory, particularly in the West Philippine Sea — as “the last thing” the Philippines should lose is the balance of power that its allies, including the US, “can provide to suit our national interests and territorial integrity.
“It was in that context that I posted a tweet on the matter on Saturday. I decided to take it down after giving it a thought that the president’s intention was to get a fair shake of the agreement, only he could have said it in a more diplomatic way. On crucial issues such as this, there should be no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding moving forward,” Lacson said.
“The president may have used strong words to send his message across to the US, but there is a more civil and statesmanlike manner to ask for compensation from a longtime ally using the usual diplomatic channels and still getting the same desired results.”
International security analyst Stephen Cutler told Arab News that the VFA addresses “all kinds of activities of US military.”
He said: “The massive aid provided by the US after disasters uses US military goods, equipment and personnel. None of that would likely be available without the VFA. So USAID would still help, but through chartered civilian flights and civilian personnel. US Navy ships might bring supplies, but would stay in international waters, with Philippine boats ferrying foods and goods to shore.”
As for Duterte’s remarks, he said: “For me, I see the president as addressing his constituents, and trying to rally them to his ideas of ‘stand on our own.’
“It looks like the president wants to buy new air and naval assets and equipment for the Philippine military, but the opposition won’t fund that because they think that the US will provide support if needed.
“He may be laying a path for even more defense spending at a time when anti-coronavirus spending is the only thing on people’s minds,” Cutler added.
The VFA provides a legal framework through which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines. Experts say that without it, other bilateral defense agreements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, cannot be implemented.
Duterte notified Washington in February last year that he was canceling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa. But he has extended the termination process, which will now be overseen by US President Joe Biden’s administration.
Representatives from both countries have been meeting to iron out differences over the military agreement.


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Updated 52 min 42 sec ago

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.


Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

Updated 04 August 2021

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

KABUL: Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman


Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

Updated 04 August 2021

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

  • UAE has lifted a ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries from August 5
  • Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million

DUBAI: Dubai’s state airport operator expects a “surge” in passenger traffic over the coming weeks and months, its chief executive said on Wednesday, after the United Arab Emirates announced an easing of travel restrictions from African and Asian countries.
The Gulf state, a major international travel hub, on Tuesday said it would scrap on Aug. 5 a transit flight ban which Emirates airline later said applied to passengers traveling from 12 countries, including major market India.
The UAE will also lift this week an entry ban on those who had visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria or Uganda over the past 14 days for those with valid residencies and who are certified by Emirati authorities as fully vaccinated.
Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said Dubai International was “ready to accommodate the anticipated surge in the coming weeks and months” once restrictions ease.
The Indian subcontinent is traditionally the largest source market for Dubai International, which is one of the world’s busiest airports and the hub for state airline Emirates.
Griffiths said the easing of entry restrictions on inbound travelers from South Asia as well as Nigeria and Uganda would allow for thousands of UAE residents to return.
“It’s a great development from both a social and economic standpoint,” he said.
Those traveling to the UAE or transiting through its airports need to meet various conditions including presenting a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test prior to departure.
Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million. It handled 86.4 million in 2019, the year before the pandemic struck.