MANILA — Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa said Wednesday the US embassy agreed to process his visa before the Philippines announced that it was delaying its termination of a key military pact with Washington.
President Rodrigo Duterte in February axed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after Washington canceled the visa of Dela Rosa, who led his war on drugs as former national police chief. The termination of the VFA was supposed to take effect in August.
Dela Rosa said the US embassy invited him to process his visa "right after" a phone call between Duterte and US President Donald Trump. The 2 leaders last reported conversation was about the coronavirus pandemic in April.
"Ayaw ko ibalita sana, pero to be frank, to be honest with you, tinawagan ako ng US after nag-usap si President Duterte at President Trump," the first-term senator told ANC.
(I would not have wanted to announce it, but to be frank, to be honest with you, the US called me after President Duterte and President Trump talked.)
"'Pag after COVID daw, mag-report na iyong kanilang mga staff, inimbitahan ako papuntahin doon para asikasuhin iyong aking visa... Yes, pupunta ako," he added.
(They told me that after COVID, when their staff reports back to work, they invited me to go there to fix my visa. Yes, I will go.)
In June, the government said it had suspended plans to cancel the VFA, which is important to Washington's moves to counter Beijing's rising regional power.
Duterte has cozied up to China in search of trade and investment, sparking US concern that its long-time ally and former colony would change sides in a strategic boost to Beijing.
Asked if the suspension of the VFA had anything to do with his visa, Dela Rosa said: "After sila nag-usap, iyong 2 Presidente... nagkaintindihan sila. Maybe nagbigay ng instruction iyong Presidente ng America na ayusin ninyo iyong visa ni Bato kaya tumawag sa akin iyong US Embassy."
"Wala man ako doon nang nag-usap sila... Hindi ko lang alam. Baka may instruction sa kanila na ayusin," he added.
(After they talked, the 2 Presidents, they came to an understanding. Maybe the American president gave an instruction to fix Bato's visa so the US Embassy called me. I was not there, I don't know. Perhaps there as instruction to fix it.)
Dela Rosa said he had nothing to tell his critics.
"Hindi na kailangan iyan kausapin. Pabayaan mo na lang iyan sila. Kahit anong sabihin ko dito, tingnan mo after this, mamba-bash pa rin iyan sila dahil sarado na ang utak ng mga iyan," he said.
(It's unnecessary to talk with them, just let them be. No matter what I say here, they will bash me because their minds are closed.)
VFA IMPACT ON S. CHINA SEA DISPUTE
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. earlier said the President suspended his decision to abandon the pact because "he saw that the tensions in the south China Sea were getting in the way of a united response to the COVID-19 crisis."
"Because of security issues... in that part of the world (South China Sea), both our governments have seen it would be prudent for us to simply suspend any implementation of the termination," Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said.
Billions in trade pass through the strategic waterway and it is thought to contain rich petroleum deposits, making it a frequent source of regional tension.
Signed in 1998, the VFA is key to the US-Philippines' broader decades-old military alliance, and underpins hundreds of joint military activities per year as well as speedy disaster aid and ongoing anti-terror efforts.
The Philippine military receives significant American training and equipment, obtaining $554.55 million in US security assistance from 2016-2019.
Romualdez said a US offer to assist the Philippines in its battle to contain its coronavirus outbreak also helped discussions on preserving the VFA for now.
The suspension is for 6 months from June 1 and can be extended a further 6 months.
An extension of the reversal would push the deal's life up to the final year of Duterte's constitutionally-mandated single term, which ends in June 2022.
With reports from Agence France-Presse; Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News