US travel ban includes First Family: Panelo

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    FAMILY members of President Duterte will forego their planned trips to the United States “in deference” to the President’s travel ban to his Cabinet officials, chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo yesterday said.

    Asked if members of the First Family are included in the President’s directive, Panelo said: “Probably the members of the family will do likewise in deference to the father.”

    Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio has been reported to be in the United States on a study tour on terrorism.

    The President on Wednesday night banned his Cabinet secretaries from visiting and attending any official functions in the US as a form of protest against what he claimed were disrespectful actions of some American officials, such as the passage of a resolution barring entry to Philippine officials perceived to be involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima and the cancellation of the visa issued to Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

    Panelo said members of Duterte’s official family had “accepted” his decision.

    He said specific details of the President’s order are not yet available, but it is expected to include the “personal” trips of members of Cabinet officials.

    “Tinanggap nang maluwalhati. Eh dapat lang naman huwag pumunta doon, eh kinakansela nila iyong (visa) ng kasama nating senador, kumbaga sabi niya nga, ‘Boycott tayo!’(It was accepted freely. It is just right that we refrain from going there because they cancelled the visa of our senator. Like he said, we are on a ‘boycott)’,” Panelo said.

    Panelo said the staff of the Cabinet secretaries and the other officials of the departments are not yet included in the ban but “I suppose that goes without saying (that they should be included.)”

    Panelo said some exemptions are expected, like the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Malacañang will come up with a written directive to define the coverage of Duterte’s order.

    “It’s (written directive) going to define the instruction of the President. Just like his past pronouncements, it’s always followed by a black and white. I am sure the Office of the President will issue a document defining the coverage of the instruction of the President.

    We have a Cabinet meeting on February 4, I am sure that is also one of the topics that would be discussed,” Año said.

    He surmised the order may be for official engagements only.“If you are probably sick and seeking for medical treatment, I think those are exemptions but for now we will abide by the direction or instruction of the President. It’s the instruction of the President and as a member of his Cabinet, official family, we have to abide and set aside our personal opinions,” he added.

    Año said he has no scheduled engagement in the US this year. His last travel to the United States was in 2018 on the invitation of the Department of Homeland Security.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra downplayed the effect of Duterte’s order, saying he believes it only applies to Cabinet leaders as the alter ego of the President but not to their subordinates who are carrying out official business.

    “I believe that the President’s order applies only to the Cabinet secretaries as the latter are symbolically his alter egos, but not to other subordinate department officials who may have important official business to carry on in the US, such as attending UN conferences,” Guevarra said.

    “But even then, the policy will most likely be to limit the travel of these subordinate executive officials to the most important, urgent, and in-transferable official events or transactions,” he added.

    Guevarra, like Año, said he has no plans of going to the US this year.

    MIXED REACTIONS

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson warned the indefinite travel ban will have negative effects to the country.

    “An indefinite travel ban to the United States on all members of the Cabinet could have adverse consequences on our country’s economy and security, not to mention the many employed Filipino immigrants there,” Lacson said.

    Lacson, citing the travel ban and Malacañang’s order to terminate the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement in retaliation to the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa, said the President’s recent tirades against the US might boomerang and affect the country’s bilateral and economic ties with the super power.

    He said the US might get fed up and hit back at the Philippines by limiting or even cutting trade transactions with the government and private institutions, and by suspending all assistance it has been giving to the military.

    If the US does this, Lacson said this will cripple the country’s economy considering that the country is exporting at least $10 billion worth of goods annually to the US.

    The Philippines, he added, is the recipient of US military assistance which “accounts for 52 percent of the total US military support and assistance to the entire Asia-Pacific region.”

    Lacson expressed hopes that “some Cabinet members will have the courage and sensibility to speak to the President to reconsider.”

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III supported the President on his decision, saying “it’s a sign of displeasure.”

    “He (Duterte) is the chief architect of our foreign policy, the buck stops with him,” Sotto said.

    Dela Rosa said it is up to Cabinet members whether or not to follow Duterte’s instructions.

    “Once they joined this government, it is presumed that they are ready to sink or swim with this government. If they are not ready to sink then they have an option to quit swimming with this government,” Dela Rosa said.

    Sen. Francis Tolentino said it is the prerogative of the President to issue orders to his Cabinet members, and the latter are expected to abide by such directives.

    Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan hit the President’s order, saying Duterte should have prioritized other pressing matters rather than retaliate against the visa cancellation of Dela Rosa.

    “Sa halip na barring Cabinet members from going to the US, dapat barring Chinese national from coronavirus cities from entering the Philippines ang inaasikaso ng Malacañang. Unahin dapat ang kaligtasan ng taumbayan, hindi ang interes ng iilan sa pagkansela ng visa

    (Instead of barring Cabinet members from going to the US, Malacanñang should have barred Chinese travelers from coronavirus cities from entering the Philippines. Malacañang should have considered the safety of its people and not the interest of a few just because of the cancellation of visa),” Pangilinan said. – With Victor Reyes, Ashzel Hachero, Raymond Africa and Noel Talacay