MANILA (REUTERS) - The United States is providing the Philippines with military aid that amounts to "loose change" compared with other Asian countries, a top official said on Monday (Feb 15), justifying demands by President Rodrigo Duterte for Washington to pay more.
Mr Duterte last week said the US should fork out more if it wants to maintain a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that he unilaterally cancelled last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a US visa.
"If we have very strong ties with a very strong ally then I think it also comes with a higher amount of financial assistance to be given," presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a regular briefing.
Mr Roque cited a study by the Washington-based Stimson Centre, which showed the Philippines received US$3.9 billion (S$5.15 billion) in US counter-terrorism support from fiscal year 2002-2017 compared with the US$16.4 billion for Pakistan over the same period.
"We got US$3.9 billion. Is that a huge amount? That's loose change compared to what other countries were getting," he said.
The militaries of the two countries enjoy close ties, forged during decades of joint exercises that have boosted the capability of Philippine forces while giving the US an important strategic foothold in a region where China's power and influence is growing.
Defence officials from both countries are trying to salvage the VFA, which underpins the Mutual Defence Treaty and an Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement. Mr Duterte has threatened to scrap all of them.
The US embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In December, it said the Philippines received the most US military assistance in the Indo-Pacific region, having received 33 billion pesos (S$910 million) worth of hardware.
Mr Roque said Mr Duterte was upholding the national interest and not committing extortion, as some critics have said. His demand was for compensation, because the rotating US troop presence put the Philippines at risk.
"Are we correct in asking for payment so they can maintain their presence and equipment (here)? Why not?" Mr Roque said.