President Rodrigo Duterte is carefully weighing US President Donald Trumps’ invitation to attend a summit in Las Vegas in March, Malacañang said on Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte could not yet decide on Trump’s invite, considering that the Filipino leader is among the Philippine officials included in the initial list of personalities linked to Senator Leila de Lima’s arrest.
Panelo added that the President was also apprehensive about the possibility that he might not secure a US visa.
“He (Duterte) said, one, he has to ponder over it. Why? Because he doesn’t want to go there and if he’s already there, some US senators would be unhappy seeing him there because he’s supposed to be number one on the list,” Panelo said.
“No. 2, 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 arrive in the States, I would be allowed entry.’ Oh kaya yun ang sabi niya. ‘Yun ang sagot niya (That’s what he said. That’s his response),” he added.
In a taped interview with Russian TV, Duterte said he turned down Trump’s invitation.
“I just received an invitation to go the United States, together with the Asean leaders. I haven’t been to the States. I was invited by (Trump),” the President said.
“No,” he added, when asked if he has plan of going to the US.
A provision of the US 2020 budget earlier signed by Trump authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar Philippine government officials involved in de Lima’s detention from entering the United States.
De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 due to her supposed key role in drug proliferation inside the national penitentiary when she was still Justice secretary.
The detained senator earlier released an initial roster of personalities who she believed are behind her arrest.
The list includes Duterte, Panelo, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Solicitor General Jose Calida, and Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chairperson Dante Jimenez, among others.
The US, meantime, has not released a list of banned Filipino officials.
Decision depends on US’ response
Despite the ban order, Duterte received a formal invitation from Trump to attend the summit between the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Las Vegas on March 14, based on the January 9 letter released by Malacañang.
Trump, in his letter addressed to Duterte, said the upcoming summit will provide an “excellent opportunity” for the US and the Asean “to broaden and deepen the cooperation on matters of great importance to the nearly 1 billion people in the United States and Asean nations that we have the privilege to represent.”
Panelo stressed that on a “personal” level, Duterte does not want to go to the US due to long-haul flights and cold weather in Washington.
But based on Panelo’s observation, the President wanted to attend the US-Asean summit, but has “certain sentiments relative to some issues that (may) affect his (possible) entry.”
“Ito iba (It’s different). It’s an official invitation to all Asean leaders and there is special summit. Kaya nga sinasabi niya ngayon (That’s why he is saying his sentiments),” he said.
“Pinapabayaan naming ang US government, eh di mag-decide kayo, ano, ‘you’re still inviting me or not?’ (We will let the US government decide, will you invite him or not)?” Panelo added.
Duterte’s decision, Panelo said, would depend on the US’ response.
He said Duterte merely wanted an “assurance” that he will be treated well, in case he accepts Trump’s invitation.
“We have to wait for the response of the US doon sa mga sinabi ng Presidente (to the President’s remarks). I’m sure makakarating naman yun ngayon dahil sinasabi ko na. Mino-monitor naman tayong lahat ng (US) embassy (I’m sure they will know about it because they are monitoring us),” Panelo said.
“Then let the US receive whatever signals whatever signal it wants to receive from the statement of the President,” he added.
Cancellation of Dela Rosa’s US visa ‘non-issue’
The Palace official’s statement came a day after Senator Ronald Dela Rosa confirmed that he was not allowed to travel to the US for now because his visa has been canceled.
Dela Rosa, in an interview on Wednesday, said he received a response from the US Embassy on Jan. 20 that his visa had been invalidated.
Dela Rosa was the PNP chief when De Lima was arrested and detained in 2017 over drug-related cases.
Sought for reaction, Panelo said the US has the right to “disallow or allow” any citizens of other countries who wish to visit Washington.
“Sa akin (For me, it’s) non-issue,” the Palace official said.
“It’s the prerogative and right of any state to disallow or to allow any citizens of any country. I don’t know what’s the reason why it’s canceled. Did the US state any reason to the cancellation? But I understand, according to Senator dela Rosa, the embassy told him, if you want to renew, you can reapply,” he added. (PNA)