PRESIDENT Duterte has two reasons why he is dilly-dallying over accepting President Donald Trump’s invitation to visit the United States: he has no visa and that some Americans might be “unhappy” if he goes to the US.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, yesterday told reporters the President had mentioned that he feels at least five American senators will be “unhappy” if he goes to their country.
Panelo said the President wants to make sure that he is really welcome in the US before he decides whether to attend the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) special summit to be held in Las Vegas in March.
“He said, one, he has to ponder over it. Why? Because he doesn’t want to go there and if he is already there, some US senators would be unhappy seeing him there, because he is supposed to be number one on the list,” Panelo said.
Another concern, he said, is that Duterte has no US visa.
“Sabi niya (he said), ‘I do not even know if US will issue me a visa. And if I’m issued a visa, I do not know if when I arrived in the States I would be allowed entry.’ That was his answer,” Panelo added.
Trump invited ASEAN leaders, including Duterte, to attend the special summit in March. He first issued an invitation in November 2019 and again last January 9, 2020.
Panelo said personally, the President is not keen on visiting the US because he is averse to long travel and the very cold weather.
He, however, is pondering about the visit because it is an “official invitation to all ASEAN leaders” to attend the special summit.
President Duterte, in an interview by Russia Today, said he is not going to the United States despite an invitation to attend a special summit between US President Donald Trump and other Asian leaders.
“No,” the President said as he lamented anew how former US president Barack Obama had criticized him and his anti-illegal drugs campaign during the earlier part of his term.
Duterte said he was angry with Obama then whom he called a “son of a b****”. He said Obama should have remembered that he is the head of an independent sovereign state and that if he had any grievance against him, it should have been brought to the proper forum like the United Nations instead of criticizing him in a press conference.
The rest of Duterte’s interview will be aired by Russia Today on Friday.
Asked if Duterte will proceed to the US if he is issued a visa, Panelo said the President is not imposing any condition but merely “expressing certain sentiments relative to some issues that may affect his entry.”
The latest invitation from the American leader came at the heels of a US legislation banning entry of all Philippine officials supposedly behind the arrest and continued detention of Duterte staunch critic and opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.
Malacañang had repeatedly said that De Lima was charged and jailed for violating the anti-illegal drug laws.
Sen. Christopher Go said he has a valid US visa but does not know if it has been cancelled just like what authorities did to the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa for his alleged links to extrajudicial killings in relation to the implementation of the government’s war on drugs.
In a text message to reporters, Go said while he has a US visa, he has yet to use it even as he admitted that he really has no idea if it is still valid for travel to the US.
“Meron pa akong US visa pero hindi pa ako nakakapunta ng US. Saka ko na lang i-check kung meron ng schedule to the US. So far wala pa namang scheduled trip. Excited pa naman ako makapunta ng US. First time ko sakaling magpunta kung matuloy ang US –ASEAN Summit pero hindi pa naman sigurado (I still have a US visa but I have not used it.
I will check if it’s still valid if there is a scheduled trip to the US but so far I have none. I am really excited to go to the US, and it will be my first if I can attend the US-ASEAN Summit but we are still now sure [if President Duterte will accept US President Trump’s invitation]),” Go said.
Go said he plans to use his US visa so he can watch live NBA games if ever the Los Angeles Lakers enters the finals.
“Hopefully, makapunta. If not, sa TV na lang ako manonood (Hopefully I can go to the US [to watch the games]. If not, I will just watch it on TV),” he added.
Go said he is not sure if the President will accept Trump’s invitation to attend a summit between the US and leaders of the ASEAN in Las Vegas on March.
“Hindi ko pa po alam ang magiging desisyon ng ating Pangulo kung tutuloy ba siya. Sa pagkaka-alam ko noon, as a matter of principle, ayaw talaga niyang pumunta (I still don’t know what the President’s decision will be. To my knowledge before, as a matter of principle, the President does not like to go to the US),” he said.
Go reiterated that the Duterte administration is not persecuting De Lima, saying “it is not the President’s style to silence his critics.”
Del Rosa last Wednesday confirmed that his US visa was cancelled effective this month but no reason was given by the US Embassy in Manila.
Dela Rosa, the first PNP chief of Duterte, was the main architect of the administration’s intensified war on drugs dubbed Oplan Double Barrel, a police campaign blamed as the cause of thousands of extrajudicial killings.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana belied a claim by Sen. Imee Marcos that the US government has also cancelled his visa.
“I am yet to be informed by the US embassy that my diplomatic visa had been cancelled,” Lorenzana said.
Marcos earlier said he heard reports that Lorenzana’s visa was also cancelled along with other government officials.
“It’s plain rumor, no need to dignify it,” Lorenzana, who served as head of the Veterans Affairs Office at the Philippine Embassy in Washington for over 10 years before he assumed as defense secretary in July 2016, said.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said he is not aware of any active policeman whose visa was also cancelled by US.
“None that I know of and my visa is still valid I think,” said Gamboa.
Asked if he have concerns over the US decision to cancel the visa of Dela Rosa, Gamboa said: “Well, ako I cannot give any comment because I really don’t know the reason for the cancellation.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the cancellation of the US visa of Dela Rosa was a prerogative of the US government to determine who it will allow to enter its territory.
Guevarra said the United States does not even have to offer any explanation for its actions in cancelling the senator’s visa.
“As I have said many times before, it is the absolute prerogative of any sovereign state to determine who may enter its territory, and it does not have to offer any explanation as to its action,” Guevarra said.
“Like any other ordinary Filipino citizen who wants to visit the US, Senator Dela Rosa will just have to try and try,” he added.
The US Senate last month unanimously approved a resolution to sanction human rights offenders in the case of De Lima and due to the extra-judicial killings in the administration’s war on drugs.
The US Senate invoked the Magnitsky Act that imposes travel bans on offenders and freezes their assets. The US Senate committee trained its sight on officials behind the war on drugs and on De Lima’s “arrest and prolonged detention.
De Lima was arrested on February 2017 on charges that she benefitted from the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was still justice secretary. She is detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.