MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa may soon have an American visa again months after President Rodrigo Duterte scolded and later terminated the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington for canceling it.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News on Wednesday, July 8, Dela Rosa disclosed that the United States Embassy in Manila called him and offered to facilitate his visa after Duterte and US President Donald Trump spoke over the phone in April.
“Ayoko sanang ibalita but to be frank, to be honest with you, tinawagan ako ng US [embassy] after nag-usap si President Duterte at si President Trump. Tinawagan ako ng US embassy na asikasuhin ‘yung visa ko,” Dela Rosa said.
(I didn’t want to announce it, but to be frank, to be honest with you, the US [embassy] called me after President Duterte and President Trump spoke. The US embassy called and said they would attend to my visa.)
Dela Rosa had been asked if he applied for a US visa in light of Duterte’s recent decision to suspend the termination of the VFA, prompting him to break out into a smile.
Dela Rosa said he did not have a visa yet but added he would take the US up on its offer when quarantine restrictions were eased and its consular operations resumed.
“Di pa ako pumunta dahil COVID. Uunahin mo [ba] ‘yan, may COVID pa…. Pupunta ako,” he said. (I haven’t gone because of COVID. I can’t attend to that, there’s still COVID…. I will go [after].)
What happened before? Dela Rosa had first confirmed in January that the US cancelled his visa, saying Washington officials informed him he could apply for another one if he wished.
The visa cancelation was widely seen as an effect US lawmakers’ decision to invoke sanctions of the Global Magnitsky Act on Philippine officials linked to the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima and alleged extrajudicial killings or EJKs under his drug campaign.
Dela Rosa, a stanch Duterte ally, was the President’s first police chief and is known as the architect of the administration’s controversial and bloody drug war.
The move prompted an angry Duterte to renew his threats to scrap the VFA with the US if it did not “correct” its actions last January. The Philippines eventually did terminate the VFA in February, though its termination is currently suspended until December 2020, and may be extended until June 2021. (TIMELINE: Duterte’s threats to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement)
Senator’s take: Asked if he thought his visa offer was related to Duterte’s decision to suspend the VFA’s termination, Dela Rosa only said Duterte and Trump seemed to reach an “understanding.”
“Well, to be frank, my take on that is after sila nag-usap, ‘yung dalawang presidente, yung ng US at ng Pilipinas, nagkaintidihan sila. Maybe nagbigay ng instruction ang president ng Amerika nila na ayusin nya ‘yung visa ni Bato kaya tumawag sa akin ang US embassy na ayusin daw nila. Ganoon,” Dela Rosa said.
“Wala naman ako doon nangn nag-usap sila. Pero hindi ko alam, baka may instruction sa kanila na ayusin kaya tinawagan ako,” he added.
(Well, to be frank, my take on that is after they spoke, the two Presidents of the US and Philippines, they understood one another. Maybe the President of America gave instructions to fix Bato’s visa and so the US embassy called me to say they will facilitate it. Like that. I wasn’t there when they spoke. But I don’t know, maybe they were given instructions.)
Dela Rosa had been widely criticized across the political spectrum for bringing up the cancellation of his visa as it had threatened the Philippines’ military deal with the US and endangered the country’s security.
Addressing this, Dela Rosa said there was no need to send a message to his critics.
“Sarado na utak ng mga nila. ‘Di na ako kailangang mag-explain sa kanila,” he said. (Their minds are made up. I don’t need to explain anything to them.)
In a media interview on Thursday, July 9, Dela Rosa said he didn’t ask for help from Duterte to have his visa reinstated, telling reporters that it would have been “really unbecoming” as a senator to “beg” for a US visa.
“Itong pagbalik, ‘di ko diniscuss sa kanya. ‘Yun na lang after nang nasabihan ako na ibabalik, then nagtext ako sa kanya. Nagpapasalamat ako sa kanya dahil ibabalik na ang aking visa,” he said
(I didn’t discuss getting back my visa with him. Only after I was told that it will be reinstated, then I texted him. I thanked him because I would get my visa back.)
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr earlier said Duterte decided to step back from terminating the VFA owing to the coronavirus pandemic, geopolitics, and rising tensions in the South China Sea. – With reports from Aika Rey/Rappler.com