Malacañang on Monday said President Rodrigo Duterte was not holding the US to ransom by his threat of terminating the visiting forces agreement (VFA) if the Philippines would not be provided with vaccine doses.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte was merely manifesting his independent foreign policy.

“Ang presidente pa rin ang chief architect ng ating foreign policy. So hindi po natin puwedeng ipagkait sa ating pangulo iyong ganiyang desisyon,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.

On Sunday, Duterte sought at least 20 million vaccine doses from the US.

“Ang kanila lang kasi kay iyong (VFA), matatapos na. Ngayon, ‘pag hindi ako pumayag, aalis talaga sila. Kung hindi sila maka-deliver ng maski na lang a minimum of mga 20 million vaccines, ah they better get out. No vaccine, no stay here,” he said.

Roque said Duterte offered a fair trade.

“Ang sinasabi ng presidente, dahil tayo ay magkakaibigan, magtulungan tayo; kailangan namin ng vaccine, may vaccine kayo bigyan ninyo kami. Kinakailangan ninyo ang aming teritoryo para sa (VFA), sige ibibigay namin iyan,” he said.

Roque said he also believed that Duterte’s grant of absolute pardon to Joseph Pemberton, which he earlier said was “grounded on a broader national interest,” was an attempt by the president to secure vaccines.

“Para magkaroon tayo ng bakuna, iyong pag-i-extend ng termination ng VFA at iyong personal kung opinyon na pati nga iyong kay Pemberton ‘no eh tama naman na sabihin na ni Presidente ‘enough is enough, walang bakuna, walang VFA,'” he added. John Ezekiel J. Hirro