There are many reasons President Rodrigo Duterte should turn down an invitation to visit the United States in March.
First and foremost of these reasons is a US ban on all Philippine officials involved in the incarceration of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.
Introduced as a rider in a US budget bill, the ban ostensibly includes President Duterte himself, who has command responsibility over his Cabinet members, who initiated the drug charges against the senator in 2017.
The ban, along with the budget, was signed into law by US President Donald Trump, with whom Mr. Duterte has often expressed an affinity—or even friendship, and who on occasion has heaped fulsome praise on the Philippine chief executive. These sentiments notwithstanding, the ban on Philippine officials is an inexcusable intrusion into Manila’s domestic affairs and an insult to our system of justice, both of which Mr. Trump implicitly agreed to when he signed the budget bill. To accept Mr. Trump’s invitation would be to ignore this insult.
A second reason is the poor regard that this American president has shown the Asean.
According to a statement from the Palace, Trump also invited nine other Asean leaders to a summit with the regional bloc, to be held on March 14 in Las Vegas.
The invitation was first conveyed during the Asean-US meeting at the 2019 Asean Summit in November—a meeting in Thailand that most Southeast Asian leaders did not attend, after Trump skipped the annual event for a second year in a row.
What are the leaders of Asean, including President Duterte, to make of Mr. Trump’s refusal to go to Southeast Asia to meet with them? Should they now eagerly troop to Las Vegas simply on the American president’s invitation?
Finally, President Trump himself is damaged goods, and not even his impending acquittal by the Republican-dominated US Senate can ever erase the fact that he is only the third US president to have been impeached—having been accused of an abuse of power for inviting foreign intervention in US elections.
When Mr. Trump assumed office, observers likened him to President Duterte, perhaps because both were controversial and spoke their mind without filters. At the time, Mr. Duterte maintained there was a difference—he was not a racist. Today, we are compelled to add that unlike Mr. Trump, our President is not in the habit of telling lies—certainly not with the frequency his “friend” in the White House does. The last time we looked, that was more than 16,241 false or misleading claims in his first three years in office. That’s almost 15 lies a day.
That’s reason enough for President Duterte to stay away.