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An elderly Pasay City resident completes her Covid-19 vaccination at Pasay West High School on Thursday (June 3, 2021). The country has inoculated more than five million so far in the priority sectors that include medical front-liners, local officials, senior citizens and adults with comorbidities. (PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

Philippines among ‘first’ to get US donation of Covid vaccines

THE Philippines will be among the first countries to benefit from the 80 million doses of donated Covid-19 vaccines from the United States (US).

In an online press briefing on Monday, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manual “Babe” Romualdez said he was informed by the White House that the country, as a close ally of US, will be among the initial beneficiaries of the donation.

“But we still don’t know how many will be given to us, but this donation [is] without any strings attached to it, so to speak,” Romualdez said.

“It’s just really part of a program that they have, that will start really helping other nations to be able to fight this virus,” he added.

He said US President Joe Biden is expected to announce the donation this week.

VFA impact

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque refrained from commenting on how the donation could affect President Duterte’s decision on whether to keep or scrap the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with US.

“I do not know, but we still have to receive the vaccines to begin with,” Roque said.

Duterte ordered its abrogation of the 1998 VFA, which allows US military forces to enter the country’s territory, after the cancellation of the US tourist visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

The abrogation proceedings was initiated in February 2020, but was suspended due to the pandemic.

In February this year, Duterte said the US government must “pay” if it wants to maintain the VFA.

Romualdez said the DFA has already submitted to the Office of the President a version of the VFA with better terms of agreement, which could be considered by Duterte.

Presidential talk

The US government is keen on retaining the VFA, as well as its close diplomatic ties with the Philippine government.

Romualdez said this position was expressed by US President Joe Biden in his letter to President Duterte for the 75th anniversary of the US-Philippine diplomatic relations by July.

“President Biden wrote to President Duterte not only on the occasion of the 75th anniversary, but to also inform him [that] the relationship between the United States and the Philippines will continue and that he hopes that he will be able to meet in person with the President at some point in time,” Romualdez said.

He said the upcoming anniversary might “trigger” a talk between Presidents Duterte and Biden.

Currently, he said they are still awaiting word from the US government on such invitation.

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