When his ever-loyal friend, defender and enforcer Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa lost his right to enter the United States with the cancellation of his visa, President Rodrigo Duterte erupted again in an expletive-laden tirade against the country’s longtime ally, threatening to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement if the US doesn’t restore Dela Rosa’s visa.
“I’m warning you. This is the first time. Kapag hindi ninyo ginawa ang correction diyan [If you do not correct that], one: I will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement. Tapusin ko ‘yan pu**** in*** yan [I’ll end that son of a b*tch],” Duterte told a crowd of supporters in Leyte. He even gave the world’s greatest power a one-month ultimatum to make the “correction.”
It could have been a reason to hail the leader for standing up to the powerful nation, except that his tirade raises some questions. First of all, it seems he is righting a wrong for the wrong reason. Even the militant activists who have been fighting for the abrogation of the treaty since it was signed and ratified in 1999 criticized his obvious knee-jerk reaction because he said he would terminate the treaty because the US wronged his friend and ally, and not because it was a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“The termination of the VFA is a serious matter. We have fought for it since 1999. It is NOT a mere bargaining chip to get Bato back his US Visa. The termination of the VFA is needed because it is an affront to our national sovereignty. Wag i-trivialize ang usaping ito (Don’t trivialize this issue),” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
The President never said anything about the treaty being disadvantageous to the Philippines and that it violates the country’s sovereignty, but was angry simply because the US had canceled a loyal senator’s visa.
It took months of heated debates and street protests before the Philippines and the US finally came up with the agreement, and more discussions on the Senate floor before it was ratified. Two prominent cases—a rape and a murder—have been committed by American soldiers while on “visit” in the country’s military bases that led to militant protests and court cases, but the VFA remained in force.
And suddenly because his friend might not be able to come with him to the US when he decides to attend the Asean leaders’ meeting with US President Donald Trump, the 20-year-old treaty will suddenly be terminated?
Of course, there is a more understandable reason the President was peeved by the cancellation of De la Rosa’s visa. It was an extension of his anger over the resolution passed by the Senate and the inclusion of the provision in the 2020 US budget imposing sanctions on certain Philippine officials and individuals believed responsible for the wrongful imprisonment and filing of frivolous charges against Duterte’s harshest critic Senator Leila de Lima and the harassment of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
Duterte and other Philippine officials are protesting that it is the prerogative of the government to file charges against De Lima and yet they are now angry that the US government is banning them from entering the United States and cancelling a Philippine senator’s visa which, using their argument, is also the sole right and prerogative of the sovereign nation United States.
The three senators who sponsored the resolution seeking sanctions against those responsible for De Lima’s wrongful detention and who were also barred from entering the Philippines did not raise a howl, and just said they didn’t plan to visit the Philippines anyway.
Will Duterte actually terminate the VFA if the US refuses to restore De la Rosa’s visa? Maybe. After all, he could easily give the same privileges to Chinese troops and enter into the same disadvantageous and illegal agreement with China. Didn’t the Duterte administration after all gave a red carpet welcome to a Chinese Coast Guard crew that has been harassing and depriving Filipino fishermen of their livelihood in the waters well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone? Hasn’t the Duterte administration been allowing Chinese fighter planes to land and refuel in Mindanao, particularly in Davao?
Didn’t he after all once said that the Philippines can become the third member of a new Axis alliance with Russia and China?
Or maybe it is all a bluff. Perhaps his latest tirade was just one his many “palabas” to boost his standing with his supporters. After all, his popularity with the Filipino masses continue to rise every time he makes those “macho” threats against perceived enemies of the state, who are actually mostly critics of his undemocratic policies.
One of his close supporters once said that Duterte says in public what the audience and the Filipinos want to hear, and not necessarily what he thinks should constitute public policy. And that leaves many people, including his officials, confused.
Who will cave in?
Mr. Abelgas is a former managing editor of Manila Standard. He now lives in the US.