Año: Cabinet will abide by Duterte’s U.S. travel ban

JC Gotinga
Año: Cabinet will abide by Duterte’s U.S. travel ban
The interior secretary, who says his US visa remains valid, believes the prohibition would exclude emergencies, such as illness requiring medical treatment in the US

MANILA, Philippines –  Members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet will abide by his order prohibiting them from traveling to the US, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told reporters on Thursday, January 30.

This came a day after Duterte said he would “indefinitely” not allow any Cabinet member to go to the US as he “tones down” the Philippines’ relations with its traditional ally.

“If we are probably sick and seeking medical treatment, I think those are exemptions, but, for now, we will abide by the direction, instruction of the President,” Año told reporters on the sidelines of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines’ yearly “Prospects” forum in Makati City.

“Anyway, I don’t have plans of going to the United States because I have to take care of a lot of things here,” Año added.

Duterte’s order followed an earlier announcement that he would terminate the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, which in turn followed the revocation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa.

The US Senate earlier adopted a resolution that seeks Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Philippine officials involved in extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s “war on drugs” and the unlawful detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

Dela Rosa appears to be the first Philippine official whose US visa was cancelled because of this. Año said his US visa remains valid, and that he did not know of any other official besides Dela Rosa whose US visa had been revoked. 

As the first police chief under Duterte, Dela Rosa was the architect of the drug war that saw more than 5,000 people killed, according to government figures, but which rights groups estimate to be at least 27,000.

Duterte said his order to call off the VFA, a pact that allows for US military presence in the Philippines, was not a mere reaction to Dela Rosa’s visa getting cancelled, but to the US Senate resolution, and to a provision in the US 2020 national budget that similarly sanctions De LIma’s accusers.

If Washington’s sanctions are imposed, affected Philippine officials may be denied US visas and have their bank accounts and assets in the US frozen.

Duterte has faced opposition and criticism for putting the VFA on the line over his administration’s tussles with the US, and reporters asked Año whether he finds this reason enough to prohibit even members of the Cabinet from traveling to the US.

“Well, that’s the instruction of the President, and, as a member of his Cabinet, his family, we have to abide, and we have to set aside our personal opinions and reasons,” Año replied.

He said he expected the Office of the President to produce a document defining the coverage of the travel prohibition, and that it would be discussed in the next Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, February 4. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.