President Rodrigo Roa Duterte said Friday he is in a tight balancing act insisting, however, that his government will remain neutral and his allegiance will be for the Filipino people in the midst of the tense geo-political environment in the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking during the inspection of newly delivered air assets to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) in Clark Air Base in Pampanga, President Duterte said the country cannot afford to get involved in a conflict and must opt not to take sides in the US-China rivalry.
“I am walking on a tightrope, actually. I cannot afford to be brave in the mouth against China because, well, we are avoiding any confrontation — a confrontation that would lead to something which we can hardly afford, at least not at this time,” he said in his message.
With regards to the Americans, the President said, “we asked so much of them because they have taken so much from us.” He noted, however, that he opposed getting too close to the US because he wants the country to remain impartial.
While he does not want to be aligned with any competing countries, he said that since the exigency of the moment requires US presence, he is okay with it.
President Duterte also conveyed a message to the US government saying its presence in the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) must come at a price.
“Well, they have to pay. It’s a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free. Because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay,” he stressed.
“You, kami, we are nearest to the garrison there where there are a lot of arsenals of the Chinese armed forces.”
At the same time, he said the American government must keep its promises, especially with regards to agreements aimed at boosting the country’s defense capabilities.
Also during his address, President Duterte congratulated the Department of National Defense (DND) and and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for successfully procuring additional air assets that will play an important role in safeguarding the country.
“Recently, I have approved the proposal to acquire more combat utility [helicopters for] the AFP. With our recent gains against various terror groups, I am confident that our efforts under the AFP Modernization Program are already paying off,” he said.
He told the troops that he wants to add five or six more helicopters to the PAF’s fleet of air assets before he steps down from power. PAF has 32 helicopters for procurement under its modernization program.
The President was also pleased with the military’s efforts to eliminate terrorist groups in Northern Luzon, which he said, have led to genuine peace and sustainable progress in the area, and fostered greater camaraderie among government security forces operating in the region.
Also during the event, the chief executive led the conferment of the Order of Lapu-Lapu, with the rank of Kamagi, to outstanding officers and enlisted personnel who fought Islamic militants in Sulu in November last year.
“Your gallantry, bravery and courage are truly exemplary,” he told the awardees. “I hope that your fellow soldiers will look up to you as their source of inspiration and strength, especially when it is their turn to face the battlefield.”
On display Friday were the first one of the two C-130H aircraft granted by the US government through the Security Cooperation Assistance, and several units of brand new Black Hawk choppers brought by the Philippines from Poland under a $241.5-million government-to-government contract.
Also present during the event were former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Presidential Adviser on Military Affairs Undersecretary Arthur Tabaquero, Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, PAF Commanding General Allen Paredes, and Pampanga local officials.