Bato-bato sa langit

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Greg B. Macabenta

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President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States of America unless the US reinstates the non-immigrant visa of Senator Roland “Bato” de la Rosa. De la Rosa had a 10-year visa that allowed him to visit the US for brief periods, presumably as a tourist. If he were to go to the US on official business as a member of the Philippine Senate, he would probably not need the tourist visa.

At any rate, it appears that De la Rosa’s visa was canceled as a result of the resolution filed by US Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin that would prevent the entry into the US of Philippine official involved in the “wrongful incarceration” of Senator Leila de Lima. The resolution was a rider in the 2020 US national budget which President Donald Trump signed into law.

De Lima, a relentless critic of Duterte’s war on drugs, which had resulted in thousands of killings, some of them allegedly extra-judicial, had been accused of criminal involvement with drug lords. While this had all the elements of a frame-up, De Lima was nonetheless arrested and jailed.

This created an international uproar among human rights activists, particularly in the US. Thus the resolution filed by Leahy and Durbin.

De Lima has listed several members of the Duterte administration (including Duterte himself) who were responsible for her arrest and incarceration. It can be assumed that De la Rosa’s high visibility in the drug war, as its principal enforcer, was why his visa was among those canceled (there is no indication which official in De Lima’s “hit list” has also had a visa cancelation).


One can’t help quoting the Tagalog saying about individuals being randomly victimized by bad luck or a bad joke, “Bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ay huwag magagalit!” (Throwing stones up in the sky, whoever gets hit should not get mad).

Granting a visitor’s visa to the US is obviously not among the vast powers of the Philippine presidency, but terminating an international agreement with a foreign country is. According to Senator Koko Pimentel, the President can terminate an agreement with another country “for any reason.”

Pimentel could well have added that the reason does not have to be reasonable. This, on the other, is what Senator Ping Lacson cannot appreciate. So the US has canceled a Philippine official’s visitor’s visa and thus Duterte wants to cancel a military agreement that concerns the security of the Philippines.

Lacson’s question is: “What’s the connection?”

In other words, why are the security interests of the country being jeopardized in order to protect the personal interests of an individual? Lacson must be assuming that Duterte is aware that the VFA that he is threatening to terminate is linked to the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the US, which commits both countries to come to each other’s aid in case of an attack by another country.

Perhaps Lacson is tempted to ask Duterte if he has a Mutual Defense Agreement with De la Rosa and if that includes a Visiting Tourist Agreement (VTA) that covers visits to the US.

Lacson could furthermore remind Duterte that the US is more than just a tourist destination for moneyed public officials, or a big brother to whom the Philippines can run if bullied by another country. America is one of the biggest investors in the Philippines and is thus a pillar of the economy.

Duterte has reportedly given the US one month to reinstate Bato’s visa or else he will summarily terminate the VFA. In other words, restore Bato’s visa or suffer the consequences of a canceled VFA and that, Duterte seems to be saying, is only the beginning.

Duterte has also threatened to cancel the privilege of US citizens to visit the Philippines without a visa. In fact, he has already ordered the banning of Senators Leahy and Durbin from the Philippines.

Duterte may have other anti-US moves up his sleeve. He could also terminate the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US and other mutual assistance agreements. And then, if the visas of other officials are also canceled and not reinstated, Duterte could break relations with the US and send its diplomats back to Washington, DC. Duterte could nationalize and take over American business holdings in the Philippines and freeze all US assets.

One can imagine what other means of “getting even” with America Duterte imagines he is capable of. Remember, this is the heroic presidential candidate who vowed to board a jet ski and dare the Chinese to a fight to the death over the South China Sea.

In fact, he even warned President Xi Jinping of China to rein in his squatters on Philippine territory in the South China Sea otherwise he would send the Philippine military on a suicide mission against the Chinese.

Senator Bato de la Rosa must feel very good about the support “to the death” that the President of the Philippines is giving him.

One can almost hear Duterte promise the good Senator. “’Tang inang mga Kano na iyan — dito mo masusubukan ang suporta ko sa iyo. Mas mahal kita kaysa sa mahigit isang daang milyong Pilipino. Pag hindi nila ibinalik ang VTA mo, kanselado ang VFA nila!” (Damn those Americans — now you will see how much I support you. I love you more than the over one hundred million Filipinos. If they don’t reinstate your VTA, their VFA will be canceled.)

You can almost hear De la Rosa respond with tears in his eyes, “Tenkyu sir. Magpapakamatay din ako para sa iyo!” (Thank you sir, I will also die for you.)

How do you think the folks in Washington, DC are taking all these threats?

Duterte threatening the US reminds me of the film Ang Leon at ang Daga (The Lion and the Mouse) that starred Niño Muhlach and Fernando Poe, Jr. You can guess who the mouse is.

You can almost hear them discussing this at the Pentagon, A war hawk will ask permission to dispatch drones to take out the mouse in the Philippines. The special envoy for Southeast Asia just flashes a grin.

“Aw, com’n, don’t take that blusterer seriously. If Fidel Castro and Kruschev could not get us out of Guantanamo, does Duterte actually believe he can kick us out of the Philippines?”


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.