In what could be the biggest WTF moment of the week, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened in a speech last night to cancel a decades-old military agreement with the United States if the superpower doesn’t give back Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s American visa.
You heard that right. With Filipinos concerned over the Wuhan virus, the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption, missing fishermen in the country’s contested territorial waters, and a slew of other problems, Duterte was railing against the Philippines’ oldest and most powerful ally for canceling his buddy’s visa — the buddy responsible, as former police chief, for launching the president’s bloody drug war in 2016.
In his speech, Duterte explicitly threatened to cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which gives the U.S. jurisdiction over crimes committed by American military personnel stationed in the Philippines, because one of his pals can’t go watch any more Pacquiao fights in Vegas. (Boo-hoo.)
“They won’t let Bato [dela Rosa] enter America. I’m warning you, this is the first time, if you don’t correct that, one, I will terminate the bases’ Visiting Forces Agreement,” Duterte said in English, Filipino, and Cebuano. “I will end that f**k. I’m giving notice, and they [can] begin to count. I’m giving the American government one month from now; let’s talk.”
If they don’t give back dela Rosa his visa, the president added, “I will cancel the VFA.”
Recent U.S. legislation allows for travel bans on Philippine officials implicated in the ongoing detention of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima (something else dela Rosa oversaw as top cop), while a separate U.S. Senate resolution has called on the executive branch to impose sanctions, including travel bans, on Filipino officials involved in human rights violations under the Global Magnitsky Act.
That may explain why dela Rosa’s visa was canceled, though the American embassy in Manila has reportedly refused to explain to him why it was voided.
But Duterte’s threats didn’t end there. He said he would also impose travel bans on all the U.S. senators who supported the Global Magnitsky Act in the Foreign Affairs Committee — this on top of already having banned Senators Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Edward Markey.
But the president insisted the move wasn’t really in retaliation for dela Rosa’s visa cancellation. No, sir. It was about justice for the Filipino people who have been abused by American soldiers.
“This is in honor of my sentiments for the Filipino people, the wives, those whom they killed. That is what I’m upset about,” he said.
Leftist groups have long called for the cancellation of the VFA, saying that granting the U.S. jurisdiction over criminal cases involving American servicemen has led to some getting off easy. When several American soldiers were accused of rape in 2006 in Olongapo, for instance, the U.S. kept them under their custody instead of turning them over to Filipino officials. The VFA was again invoked when the U.S. refused to allow the transfer of former Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, the man who killed Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, to the New Bilibid Prison after he was convicted.
Simplehan na lang po natin. Ang pagbasura sa VFA ay di dapat nakasalalay sa kung bibigyan ba o hindi ng US visa si Bato. Ang pagbasura sa VFA ay matagal nang dapat ginawa dahil ito ay di pantay. Kung gagawing sangkalan ito para magka-visa si Bato, anong klaseng policy ito?
— Renato Reyes, Jr. (@natoreyes) January 24, 2020
But instead of celebrating Duterte’s newfound opposition to the VFA, leading activist Renato Reyes said there was something inherently wrong with how Duterte was approaching the issue.
“Junking the VFA should not be based on whether or not Bato [de la Rosa] will be given a US visa or not,” he said in a tweet. “Canceling the VFA should be done because it’s unfair [to the Philippines].”