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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte has barred members of his Cabinet from traveling to the US, a move that will further distance the Philippines from its long-standing ally.
This follows the Filipino leader’s earlier decision to unilaterally end the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement after Washington canceled the visa of one of his close political associates, former police chief Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.
“I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there (US) at this time,” Duterte said on Wednesday night.
“No Cabinet member should be allowed to go to the US ... indefinitely,” he added. He also reiterated his decision to scrap the military deal between the two countries. “I am terminating. I was not joking. The day I said it was the day that I decided it should be terminated,” he said.
Duterte said that the move was motivated by the US Senate’s decision to push for sanctions against Philippine officials linked to human rights abuses under the Duterte administration and those involved in the detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.
“They say it is subject to my whim, caprice. No. It started when they mentioned the US resolution. Since then, my mind has been working. I’m like that. I don’t wait,” he said.
Asked if he wanted to weaken the Philippines’ relationship with the US, the president said he was “slowly toning it down.”
Regarding his decision to skip the ASEAN-US summit in Las Vegas in March, Duterte said it is “for strategic and geopolitical considerations,” but declined to elaborate further.
Some Philippine officials voiced concerns over the impact the president’s latest move will have on the economy and defense.
“An indefinite travel ban to the US imposed on all members of the Cabinet could have adverse consequences on our country’s economy and security, not to mention the many employed Filipino immigrants there, especially if the US retaliates to the recent tirades of President Duterte,” warned Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security.
Philippines exports to the US are worth at least $10 billion, Lacson said, adding that it also receives 52 percent of the total US military support and assistance in the Asia-Pacific region.
Rep. Ruffy Biazon said the end of the military deal posed risks to national security.
The government must now come up with a contingency “defense and security plan under a scenario that does not include the US,” Biazon said.
“A huge component of the country’s defense and security, from training our troops to acquisition of defense items, involves the close relationship between the US and the Philippines.”
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