AS A WORD war raged over the US ban on selected Philippine officials and the freezing of their assets, President Duterte rejected a standing invitation to visit the White House, barred the entry of two US senators and threatened to require visiting Americans to secure visas.
There are so far no indications, however, that the ordinary Filipino traveler would become collateral damage in the tit for tat that could get out of hand if mishandled.
Only officials involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima since 2017 on drug-related charges are being targeted by a provision in the 2020 US budget law allowing President Trump to ban her persecutors and freeze their assets in the US.
Denouncing what it said was US meddling in internal Philippine affairs, Malacañang threatened Thursday to require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to first secure an entry visa.
This knee-jerk reaction could remain just a threat, because it could inflict more harm to the Philippines than to the US if carried out. Also, many of those to be affected are Fil-Ams holding only US passports.
At present, Americans are allowed visa-free visits of 30 days like the citizens of fellow ASEAN members and other favored nations. Chinese arriving without visas are routinely granted one upon presenting their passports at the port of entry.
Panicking Filipino officials, including senators and congressmen with businesses and assets in the US, have started to distance themselves from De Lima’s detention despite their having been active in the campaign against the opposition senator and critic of Duterte.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Friday that should a ban from entry into the US be enforced against Philippine officials linked to De Lima’s imprisonment, the government will require all Americans intending to enter the Philippines to apply and secure a visa first.
He added that President Duterte was immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to bar the entry of Sens. Dick Durbin (Illinois) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) who introduced the ban in the US budget law.
Their insertion includes a clause on “Prohibition on Entry” that specified “foreign government officials about whom the (State) Secretary has “credible information” that they have been involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.
Panelo also announced that President Duterte said he would officially decline a standing invitation to visit the United States. He recalled that the President had told him many times before that he never intended to visit the US in the first place.
The President who turns 75 in March has also said that the long-haul flight (around 15 hours) to Washington would be too grueling for him.
Heads of government routinely invite one another, almost as part of the small talk, when they meet in summits, forums and such gatherings. Trump has been inviting Duterte to the White House since April 2017.
With this jarring turn of events, we think the Duterte administration should try working out things quietly. Braggadocio and empty threats will not work in dealing with the US.
Panelo claimed that US Ambassador Sung Kim had agreed with him when he said that the State department will only act when it has “credible information” about a Filipino official’s involvement in De Lima’s detention.
He quoted Kim telling him: “I read your statement, it’s a very good statement, I agree with it. It’s Congress that passed that law.” The ambassador may want to confirm or clarify what he said before it is mangled beyond recognition.
• Rebel exiles still control NPA?
BEFORE communist rebel leader Jose Ma. Sison sits down for peace talks with President Duterte or his emissaries, he may have to prove that he and his cabal ensconced in the Netherlands are still in full control of the New People’s Army insurgents back home.
There is no point negotiating with Sison and his group if the self-exiled rebel leaders cannot enforce any agreement reached with the Duterte administration on the ending the five-decade rebellion that has taken tens of thousands of Filipino lives.
The possible disconnect between Sison’s group and the NPA fighters on the ground was raised after the insurgents attacked government forces in Camarines Norte and Iloilo on the first day of a Dec. 23-Jan. 7 ceasefire preparatory to peace talks.
A report from the Joint Task Force Bicolandia said a soldier was killed and six others were wounded when NPA members ambushed troops from the 92nd Division Reconnaissance Co. in Labo, Camarines Norte.
Minutes after the attack, another group of rebels fired at a police vehicle in Tubungan, Iloilo, wounding two policemen.
Despite his decision in 2017 to stop negotiating with the communist insurgents, Duterte has sent emissaries to Sison in an effort to forge peace with them before his term ends in 2022.
Duterte said he wanted to talk directly with SIson, his former professor in college, promising that he would not be arrested if he returned to the country for the one-on-one.
Sison said he was amenable to meeting Duterte anywhere in Asia but not in the Philippines. The government, he said, would be in a position to manipulate the talks if held in the President’s home ground.
The founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines said he did not trust individuals and groups moving to sabotage the peace process and that he would only talk to the President alone, without distracting entities.
He claimed that the Duterte administration was “going downhill to hell” and “could not find enough relief from its imperialist masters to overcome the rising revolutionary movement of the Filipino people.”