By Macon Araneta
Sen. Panfilo Lacson on December 28 warned that antagonizing Americans might have sealed the country’s fate in settling for China’s Sinovac instead of the US-made Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
President Rodrigo Duterte threatened the US, “We need a vaccine. You have a vaccine then you should give us some. You need our territory for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). We will give that but if you don’t give us vaccines then do your VFA in countries you first provided with vaccines. Isn’t that only right?”
The Philippine government, upon the instruction of Duterte, sent a notice to the U.S. embassy to terminate the VFA.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied the President’s warning to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) if the US could not provide its COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines was a “blackmail.”
He also said, “First of all, the President is still the chief architect of our foreign policy so we cannot deny him that kind of decision.”
“There is nothing wrong with that, it’s not blackmailing. That’s what independent foreign policy means. We are not blind followers. We cannot be dictated by anyone,” he said.
In a speech last December 26, the President demanded at least 20 million doses of US-made COVID-19 vaccines and to stop the termination of the VFA.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, “I think there could be a more diplomatic or at least a better way of asking a longtime ally to help us avail of the vaccines for our people without sounding like we are blackmailing our way into it.”
The senator also said Duterte’s rant could have limited the Philippines’ source for COVID-19 vaccines only to those developed by China.
What is more unfortunate, Lacson noted, is the Philippine had a good chance to procure vaccines early from the United States.
“But someone from our side dropped the ball and has yet to be held accountable up to this day,” he added, referring to Health Sec. Francisco Duque.
Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri said, “Our problema, the whole world is looking for a vaccine. I can feel the frustrations of the President as a senior citizen. I think they’re asking for down payment so, the President got mad,” he added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan believes the better alternative were if the President threatened China not to sell the Philippines more expensive yet less effective if not inferior vaccines.