DESPARDES — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to end a pact key to annual war games with American troops if the US does not restore the travel visa of an official who oversaw his drug war.
It is the latest in a long line of Duterte’s threats to shrink or sever ties with historical ally Washington, which have periodically followed criticism of his deadly narcotics crackdown.
Duterte spoke after Ronald Dela Rosa, the former national police chief who is now a senator, said the US had canceled his visa but did not tell him why.
Dela Rosa was the first enforcer of Duterte’s internationally condemned campaign, in which police say they have killed just over 5,500 alleged dealers and users.
Human rights advocates say the true toll is four times higher and could amount to crimes against humanity.
The US State Department and the embassy in Manila have not responded to requests for comment about Dela Rosa’s visa.
Duterte went on the attack in an expletives-laced speech Thursday night
“Now, they won’t let Bato go to America”, he said, using Dela Rosa’s nickname.
“I’m warning you … if you won’t do the correction on this, I will terminate the … Visiting Forces Agreement. I’ll end that son of a bitch,” Duterte said in televised remarks.
“I’m giving… the American government one month from now.”
There was no immediate reaction from U.S. officials. The Philippines’ Department of Justice said Friday it would study how the agreement’s abrogation could be done.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) outlines the rules governing the conduct of US troops participating in joint military exercises in the Philippines.
The pact gave legal cover for the resumption of large-scale war games between the two allies after the US military closed its Philippine bases in the 1990s amid rising anti-US sentiment.
Duterte first threatened to abrogate the VFA in late 2016 after a U.S. aid agency put on hold funds for anti-poverty projects in the Philippines. The 74-year-old leader, who has been harshly critical of U.S. policies, while often praising China and Russia, has walked back on his public threats before.
Despite Duterte’s critical stance, U.S.-Philippine defense ties have remained robust and joint military exercises even increased in numbers last year — relations between Washington and Manila under President Donald Trump, who has voiced support for Duterte, are on a stronger footing.
Duterte has been invited by President Trump to attend a meeting for Southeast Asian heads of state in March.
However, recent criticism from US lawmakers has introduced new tensions.
The Philippines in December barred US senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy, who were behind a measure to prevent officials involved in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima from entering the US.
De Lima, one of the highest-profile critics of Duterte’s narcotics crackdown, has been held since February 2017 over a drug charge that she claims were fabricated to silence her.
Lima is a vocal critic of Duterte’s deadly campaign against illegal drugs.
With inputs from AFP/Time