Tension brewing in U.S.-Philippines relations . . .
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to cancel a key military agreement with the U.S. if officials do not reinstate the visa of one of his political allies. Last week, Senator Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa confirmed that his U.S. visa had been cancelled. While no official reason was given, dela Rosa said he believes it was likely due to allegations of extrajudicial killings during his two-year term as chief of the Philippine National Police. In response, Duterte threatened to revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which allows for American deployment of troops in the Philippines, giving one-month’s notice to the U.S. to reverse the visa cancellation.
Human rights concerns . . .
Senator dela Rosa was the first police chief under Duterte, and implemented the first phases of the administration’s deadly war on drugs. Dela Rosa allegedly oversaw extrajudicial killings carried out by the police, as well as the planting of weapons and drugs on victims. Considering his involvement in the drug war, analysts have said that the visa cancellation is in line with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. That 2016 law allows the U.S. government to restrict foreign officials accused of violations of human rights from entering the country. Other commentators have stressed that the visa cancellation and VFA are two different issues, and that Duterte must not conflate the two.
Similar threats made before . . .
Duterte has made similar threats before on cancelling the VFA. In 2016, he said that he wanted all foreign troops to leave the Philippines, as well as to end joint military exercises with the U.S. That same year, he threatened to repeal the VFA after U.S. aid agency Millennium Change Corp. put funding for anti-poverty programs in the Philippines on hold. Duterte’s statements do, however, echo some public sentiments on the VFA. The agreement is controversial in the Philippines, as it gives the U.S. jurisdiction over American military personnel accused of committing crimes in the country. Critics have argued that this has prevented legal accountability over several rape cases, such as the murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014.