US Sen. Durbin renews call for De Lima’s release from detention

Robie de Guzman   •   January 9, 2020   •   132

US Senator Richard Durbin

MANILA, Philippines – United States Senator Richard Durbin renewed his call for the Duterte administration to release detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima, saying this is an “easy and honorable way forward.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Durbin urged the Philippine government to give De Lima a quick and credible trial instead of threatening the travel of Americans with visa requirements.

“The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of Americans and so many others who travel between our nations, and instead ensure a quick and credible trial for Senator de Lima or simply do the right thing and release her,” he said.

Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said the Philippine government would require all Americans to secure a visa before entering the country should the US government enforce the ban on Filipino officials said to be involved in De Lima’s detention.

The Philippine government also ordered the Bureau of Immigration to deny entry to Durbin and Senator Patrick Leahy.

It was Leahy and Durbin who pushed for the inclusion of a provision in the US 2020 budget banning the entry of Philippine officials linked to the detention of the Filipino senator.

Another American senator, Edward Markey, has also been banned from entering the Philippines for filing a resolution calling for De Lima’s release.

De Lima, one of Duterte administration’s fierce critics, has been detained since 2017 over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade while she was Justice Secretary. She has repeatedly denied the charges.

Panelo reiterated that De Lima’s detention was not a case of political persecution, insisting that the senator was afforded due process and that there is a “probable cause” to issue a warrant for her arrest. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

PH now working on terminating PH-US VFA, says Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   January 24, 2020

Philippine Marines rush to shore during an amphibious landing exercise with United States counterparts on a beach on the coast of the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales Province, northwest of Manila, Philippines, 09 May 2018. The Philippines-US Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) Military Exercise is on its 34th iteration, which is aimed to enhance interoperability between security forces of the two countries. EPA-EFE/ROLEX DELA PENA

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang confirmed Friday that the Philippines has started the process of terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to end the deal if it does not reverse the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s visa.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the president issued the termination order Thursday night despite giving a month for the US to restore the senator’s visa.

Panelo said the order has already been relayed to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. as well as Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez.

“I just talked with Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, and he said that he will start with the process and he called up already the vice chair and they talked, and Ambassador Romualdez has already been informed, I was also talking to him earlier,” he said.

In a tweet on Friday, Locsin confirmed he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana have taken the first step in ending the 1998 deal with the US government.

Locsin sits as the chairperson of the Commission on Visiting Forces while Lorenzana serves as vice chairman.

“Del Lorenzana and I- as Vice and Chair of USVFA – are starting the process of terminating it by first contacting the Senate because it is a treaty on our side, an executive agreement on the US side. I’m leaving for Washington on a totally unrelated matter,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Lorenzana, for his part, refrained from commenting into Duterte’s latest pronouncement.

“Will study it first,” he said in a message to reporters. “No comment muna. Too soon to comment.”

The VFA is a bilateral accord between Washington and Manila that came into force in 1999. It outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

The deal may be terminated by either of the two countries by writing to the other party signifying their intent to end the agreement. Its expiration will come 180 days from the date of notification. – RRD (with details from Correspondents Rosalie Coz & Lea Ylagan)

Duterte turns down Trump invite to attend US-ASEAN meet

Robie de Guzman   •   January 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said he has decided to reject the invitation of United States President Donald Trump to attend the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit to be held in Las Vegas this March.

Duterte announced his decision during an interview with Russian International Television Network RT.

“I just received an invitation to go to the United States together with the ASEAN leaders. I haven’t been to the States. I was invited by [former US President Barack] Obama a while back. But I did not go,” he said in a video posted on Thursday.

When asked if he will attend the upcoming summit between the US and ASEAN, Duterte replied with: “No, no.”

During the interview, the president recalled the time when Obama criticized him and his campaign against illegal drugs.

“One time when I was being criticized by Obama in a press conference, he should have realized that I’m also the head of a sovereign state. He should have criticized me in the proper venue,” he said, referring to a September 2016 press conference where Obama urged Duterte to conduct his campaign “the right way.”

The president said Obama’s move to castigate him in a press briefing got him “so mad” and prompted him to curse the former president.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said that the chief executive is “still pondering” on whether he would accept Trump’s invitation as he is mindful of the possibility of getting barred from entering the US since he doesn’t have a visa, and making some American senators “unhappy” seeing him there. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Duterte can scrap PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement without Senate approval – Palace

Robie de Guzman   •   January 24, 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte can terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States (US) even without the concurrence of the Senate, Malacañang said on Friday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo issued the statement after the president threatened to scrap the VFA if the US government does not reverse the cancellation of Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s visa.

“Because it (VFA) is an executive agreement so he can cancel it without the approval of the Senate,” Panelo said.

Dela Rosa on Wednesday confirmed to media that he is not allowed to travel to the US for now after he received notification about his visa cancellation.

The senator said the exact reason on why his US visa was cancelled remains unclear but he heard reports it might be linked to the Duterte administration’s war on drugs that he spearheaded when he was the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) from 2016 to 2018.

The VFA, signed by Manila and Washington in 1998, is a bilateral deal which outlines the guidelines for the conduct of government troops when they are visiting the US or the Philippines.

Panelo said the US government should not intervene with the Philippines’ internal issues.

The Palace official also believes the president’s threat to cancel the VFA will not affect Filipino workers in the US. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

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