MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte barred Wednesday his top government officials from traveling to the United States, a move he likened to a “boycott” as the country began terminating a military accord with Washington.
Cabinet officials cannot fly to the US “indefinitely,” the President said, noting that he was simply “toning down” Manila’s ties with its long-time ally.
“I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time,” Duterte told reporters on the sidelines of the 69th founding anniversary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Duterte also explained his decision to decline a White House invitation to attend a summit with other Southeast Asian leaders in Las Vegas on March 4, saying the choice was made for “strategic, geopolitical considerations.”
No Philippine official will represent him in the summit, he said.
Upon Duterte’s orders, the Philippines last week began terminating its Visiting Forces Agreement with the US after Washington canceled the visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa—who led Duterte’s narcotics crackdown during his stint as police chief.
The President defended the move, saying he had long thought about it starting when the US Senate passed a resolution calling on his American counterpart Donald Trump to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials who are supposedly behind the detention of Duterte's staunch critic Sen. Leila de Lima.
“I am terminating. I was not joking the day I said it was the day I decided it will be terminated. Alam mo sabi nila (they say) it is subject to my whim, kapritso (capricious), It started when they mentioned the US resolution in the US Senate,” Duterte said.
“Noon pa lang 'yung utak ko gumagalaw na. Ganoon ako. Hindi ako naghihintay. I just announce late. Pinapauna ko. Pero at that time I decided if they do this I do it not only for Dela Rosa but for every Filipino,” he added.
(I have long thought about this. I don’t wait. I just announce late. I let them go first. At the time, I decided if they do this, I do it not only for Dela Rosa but for every Filipino.)
The VFA came into force in 1999 and covers the conduct of American soldiers in the Philippines.
It is among military agreements between the Philippines and the US, which also include the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the country, and the Mutual Defense Treaty, which requires one to defend the other in case of an attack on its territory.
Under the VFA, the accord will only be deemed terminated 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party a notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.