Duterte says he won’t attend ASEAN meeting in US

By Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte is declining American President Donald Trump’s invitation for him to come to the United States together with other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“I just received an invitation to go to United States together with the ASEAN leaders. I haven’t been to the States before. I was invited by Obama. I didn’t go there,” Duterte said in an exclusive interview with a Russian television network, an excerpt of which was released Thursday.

Asked if he will go to the US now following Trump’s invitation, Duterte said “no.”

The one-minute video did not provide an explanation, but Duterte went on to recall criticisms made by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, on his bloody war on drugs in 2016.

“One time when I was being criticized by Obama in a press conference, He should have realized that I was also a head of a sovereign state. He should have criticized me in the proper venue. He should have brought the case to the United Nations rather than castigate a President of another country in a presscon,” Duterte said.

Trump in a November 2019 letter to ASEAN leaders said the “special” meeting “will provide an excellent opportunity for us to broaden and deepen our cooperation on matters of great importance to the nearly one billion people in the United States and ASEAN nations that we have the privilege to represent.” He said the meeting can be scheduled in the first quarter of 2020.

Duterte wary of U.S. ban

Malacañang earlier said Duterte remains reluctant to go to the U.S. because he might be denied entry.

Sabi niya (He said), ‘I do not even know if US will issue me a visa and if I’m issued a visa, I do not know if when I arrived in the States, I would be allowed entry,'” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said at a media briefing, quoting the President.

He added that Duterte supposedly tops the list of Filipino officials banned in the US for their involvement in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, who has been jailed on drug charges since 2017.

Some American lawmakers believe De Lima is a victim of political persecution as a result of her criticisms of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, prompting them to propose an amendment to the US’ 2020 budget that would bar her accusers from entering the US. The budget law has been passed along with the provision that bans De Lima’s accusers, but an official list of those banned have not been released.

EXPLAINER: How the US budget law bans Philippine officials

Duterte feels he would not be welcomed warmly by some US senators if he ever decides to visit their country, Panelo said.

After voicing Duterte’s concerns about going to America, Panelo said the ball is now in the US’ court, and Malacañang would have to wait for the Americans’ next move.

Some senators want Duterte to go

Still, Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is urging Duterte to attend the US-ASEAN summit. In a statement on Wednesday, Lacson said he’s confident Duterte would be accorded the courtesy fit for any head of state, “so there should be no apprehension on how he will be treated while in the US territory.”

Lacson added that the meeting “can also serve as an opportunity to clarify whatever issues are being raised especially on human rights and the administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign as well as the country’s judicial system and due process.”

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, whose US visa has been canceled, likewise thinks “it’s okay” for Duterte to go to the US since he was being invited by a Republican US President, and “not by those gullible democrat US senators who knew nothing about the real situation in the [Philippines].”

The law enforcer-turned-lawmaker acknowledges that the drug war killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2016 could be the reason for his visa’s revocation. He, however, stressed that he was recently told he could reapply for a visa anytime.

This makes the cancellation of Dela Rosa’s visa a “non-issue,” Panelo said, adding that “it’s the prerogative and right for any state to disallow or allow any citizen of any country.”

Reports in December 2019 said the US voided Dela Rosa’s visa in line with the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, an American law passed in 2018 that imposes financial penalties and visa ban sanctions on foreign individuals and entities involved in violations of human rights or religious freedoms, and censorship activities.

Early this month, the US Senate passed a bipartisan resolution calling on Trump to deny US entry to and freeze the assets of Filipino officials involved in alleged extrajudicial killings and De Lima’s detention.

Malacañang has repeatedly denied that there are state-sanctioned killings, and stressed that De Lima’s drug cases are now being tried by the country’s independent courts.

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