Duterte to get full honors from US if he visits
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez gave the assurance and agreed with an earlier statement made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that Duterte will be accorded the necessary diplomatic immunity and courtesy befitting a head of state if he goes to the US.
Presidential photo/King Rodriguez
Duterte to get full honors from US if he visits
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte will be accorded full honors given to heads of state if he decides to go to the United States and accept President Donald Trump’s invitation for the Philippine leader and other heads of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to attend a special summit in Las Vegas, Nevada in March.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez gave the assurance and agreed with an earlier statement made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson that Duterte will be accorded the necessary diplomatic immunity and courtesy befitting a head of state if he goes to the US.

“Sen. Lacson is right. President Duterte, if he decides to go, will be given full honors accorded to all heads of state,” Romualdez told The STAR in a text message yesterday from Washington.

Romualdez, who also writes a column for The STAR, referred to a statement of Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security. The senator was among those who earlier called on Duterte to accept Trump’s invitation since the Philippines is a prominent and senior member of the ASEAN.

As such, Lacson said the Philippines must maintain its status in the international community.

“Since he was officially invited by President Trump, Duterte will be accorded the necessary diplomatic immunity and courtesy befitting a head of state. So there should be no apprehension on how he will be treated while in the US territory,” Lacson added.

He said Duterte’s presence at the summit can also serve as an opportunity to clarify whatever issues are being raised, especially on human rights and the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, as well as the country’s judicial system and due process brought by the resolution filed by some US senators in relation to the Magnitsky Act.

Romualdez has yet to comment, however, on how Duterte’s latest tirades and the call to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) have affected relations between the two countries.  

Prior to Duterte’s call to abrogate the VFA, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo had relayed Duterte’s concerns if he would be given a US visa and if he will not be denied entry once he sets foot on US soil.   

But that was before Duterte got wind of the information that the US government had cancelled the US visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, which prompted the Chief Executive to call on the US to make the necessary corrections or he would move to terminate the VFA. 

Duterte also saw as an interference from the US Congress the move to call for the release of detained Sen. Leila de Lima and the initiative to ban entry to the US of Philippine government officials who were believed to be responsible for De Lima’s prosecution.

Dela Rosa, who was the Philippine National Police chief when the bloody drug war was launched, told reporters on Wednesday that the US had cancelled his visa supposedly due to his involvement in the government’s campaign on illegal drugs. 

Prior to the issue on Dela Rosa’s visa, Trump had signed the 2020 US budget, which included a provision that authorizes the State Department to prevent entry to the US of Philippine officials allegedly involved in the detention of opposition senator De Lima.

Scrapping VFA

Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra told reporters yesterday that they will submit the result of the study he conducted on how the government can legally terminate the VFA – along with some lawyers of the department – to Duterte on Monday before making it public. 

“I’m done with the study on the procedure for terminating the VFA, but I have to submit first my memo to PRRD (President Duterte) on Monday,” Guevarra said. 
Guevarra refused to disclose details of the study as he emphasized that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “cannot disclose anything till after the President has read” the department’s memo. 

He added that the update may be available by next week. 

But Guevarra said the DOJ’s study is limited to the VFA, particularly on the procedure for termination and “not the wisdom of the executive action,” which means “the pros and cons of the termination.” 

“We shall answer such questions as: Is the VFA a treaty or an executive agreement? If it’s a treaty, is Senate concurrence required for termination? Who will give the notice of termination? Is it necessary to state any ground for termination? Etc.,” Guevarra said.

Urging the President to reconsider his plan to abrogate the VFA, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, argued that such a move would be “inimical to our national interest and security.”

“Only the US under our Mutual Defense Treaty and VFA can come to our defense in case our vessels are attacked in the South China Sea,” Rodriguez commented.

Senators are divided on the issue, with Sen. Richard Gordon advising the President to take it slow in making any decision on the VFA.

“In my opinion, we should be cautious and take it slow. It’s not good for the President to suddenly say things like that,” the senator said in a mix of English and Filipino.

But Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III has a different interpretation of the matter, noting the President as head of the executive branch has the final say on whether or not to end the VFA, though the decision for the Philippines to enter into a treaty with another country needs the approval of the Senate.

Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, expressed belief that the cancellation of the US visa of dela Rosa was not the sole basis of President Duterte to decide to end the VFA with the US.

“It’s only timing. The VFA was already under review, and the President probably only remembered that when he heard that Sen. Dela Rosa’s US visa was cancelled,” Pimentel said in a mix of English and Filipino.

‘It’s not me’

Dela Rosa said the cancellation of his visa was just the tipping point that prompted the President to end the VFA, one of a number of incidents in the past where Duterte felt that the relationship between the Philippines and the US was lopsided.

“The cancellation of my visa is just a tipping point, last straw before he (Duterte) got mad. It is not about me, but the foreign relations that are very one-sided,” he said, noting that American soldiers can enter the Philippines visa-free while a Philippine senator was barred from entering the US.

Dela Rosa said proof that the relationship between the Philippines and the US was not fair was the fact that under the VFA, American soldiers who would commit crimes like murder and rape could not be held responsible.

“Take the case of transgender Jennifer Laude,” he noted.

Future without VFA

The Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are already mapping out future plans and actions once the VFA is abrogated.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in constant consultations with Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. over the issue, will be discussing with President Duterte various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA.

“As I write this, we at the defense and AFP are preparing our briefs for the President. I will discuss with the President various scenarios concerning the possible termination of the VFA and what future actions may be undertaken by the DND and the AFP regarding this matter,” Lorenzana said Friday night.

Camp Aguinaldo sources pointed out that the President could have calibrated his actions towards the US government as his outburst to cancel the VFA has a resounding effect, not only within the local security sectors but also in other countries in the region.

“Our neighbors will be alarmed (once the President makes good of his threat to cancel the VFA) as they consider the US as a stabilizing force in the region. China would love it,” one security official pointed out.

‘One letter will suffice’

Militants yesterday said that if the Duterte government is truly serious about terminating the VFA, then it merely needs to inform the US government in writing of the President’s desire to terminate the agreement and wait 180 days for it to be effective. 

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that is the process under the agreement. “Let’s have it then. No fanfare, no ceremonies. One letter will suffice. This will be the true test of the regime’s seriousness. Unless negotiations are already underway to get Bato’s US visa back. Then all this is just posturing,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

Meanwhile, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said the abrogation of the VFA, along with other lopsided military agreements such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, is a long-overdue measure to assert the country’s national sovereignty.

“Under the VFA alone, US military forces committed the gang rape of ‘Nicole’ and the murder of Jennifer Laude in our own land. Filipina women became the sacrificial lambs in the rape of our sovereignty with these lopsided agreements – and yet these cases, along with the killing of Mindanaoans and the US-directed bombing of Marawi, apparently weren’t enough for the government to consider terminating the VFA. It took Bato dela Rosa’s crybaby tantrums about getting his US visa revoked.” – With Robertzon Ramirez, Edu Punay, Rhodina Villanueva, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jaime Laude

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