January 22, 2020 at 12:40 am
Jonathan Dela Cruz
"If I were the President, I would go."
Reports have it that US President Donald Trump has invited President Rodrigo Duterte and the nine other ASEAN heads of state to a summit between the US and leaders of ASEAN in Las Vegas to be held on March 14. In a statement, Malacañang noted that the invitation was first extended by the US President in Bangkok during the ASEAN Leaders Summit last November and reiterated through a letter from the White House last Jan. 9.
This invitation comes in the heels of the signing by Trump of the US 2020 budget which has a provision advising US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “prohibit those involved in Senator Leila de Lima’s detention from entering the US” which was inserted and principally authored by Democratic Senators Durbin and Leahy. Specifically, the advisory contained in the “Prohibition on Entry” section permits Pompeo to prohibit Philippine government officials “about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of De Lima” from entering the US.
It will be interesting how the US government will now treat President Duterte, who is clearly the main subject of that Durbin-Leahy insertion with this official invitation. Will Pompeo oblige and start the process of “..determining..” whether there is “.credible information..” to prohibit President Duterte from entering the US and attending the summit?
Or will he simply shrug his shoulders and demur that as far as his agency is concerned, they do not have any credible information to do so?
I have no doubt Pompeo will do what every professional diplomat and gracious host does under the circumstances—extend all the courtesies to the visitors and refrain from lifting a finger to start any process of prohibition, even of the slightest or most insignificant one. Not even a whiff of prohibition will be heard from him otherwise he will get a mouthful from his boss, President Trump.
After all, President Duterte has been invited by Trump twice before to visit the US which he respectfully declined. Other government and non government officials, here and abroad, have been urging him to visit as well, specially since he has been repeatedly saying that he is pursuing an independent foreign policy (friends to all, enemies to none) which has perplexed America and its closest allies no end. After all, he has traveled many times over to the capitals of the major powers—five times to China, thrice to Japan and twice to Russia. So, why not show some balance and visit the US and selected European countries—the traditional destinations of past administrations? Well, we will soon find out whether President Duterte will listen to these entreaties this time around and finally accept this third invitation toward the end of his term.
If I were the President, I would oblige and accept the invitation. That will serve as a powerful statement that he is truly a leader worthy of his word—a friend to all, enemy to none. Equally important, he will be able to personally show the American people that the Philippines remains America’s steadfast ally in the Asia-Pacific and assure the millions of Filipinos in the US that we care for their rights and welfare and are with them in strengthening our common bonds with their host country and upholding the values of freedom and democracy based on respect for sovereignty and the rule of law.
That visit, if it comes to pass, will also be a good opportunity to lay the administration’s record as far as the matter of human rights and press freedom—two of the most overused issues raised against the President—and let the people including the fiercest critics, in and out of the US government, decide.
He would then be able to inform and educate those critics about the realities on the ground, specially on EJK and other such overly hyped concerns thrown at his doorstep. He would be able to reiterate his administration’s position on the need to respect our sovereignty and our own ways of development even as we uphold the tenets of good governance and the rule of law.
Of course, that visit can also be an occasion for these critics to throw all the dirt they can muster against the administration. That is to be expected. But that should not deter the President from visiting. Let these guys do their worst. I am sure he will be able to take these in stride and be the better for it.
In joining his ASEAN colleagues in this first-ever summit with the US on American soil, Duterte will also be able to reinforce regional solidarity in promoting a strategic partnership with the world’s foremost economic and military power which can only benefit the nearly one billion people in the US and the region as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.