Duterte not campaigning for Trump: Palace

Malacañang denied that President Rodrigo Duterte was campaigning for US President Donald Trump when he praised the latter for being a “good” leader by respecting the Philippines’ decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“He (Duterte) is expressing his sentiment about it, not necessarily campaigning and he explained it,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Monday.

Panelo, quoting Duterte, explained that Trump’s principle and “judicious remarks on the termination of the VFA” made him deserving of another four-year term in the upcoming November US presidential elections.

“Sabi ni Presidente (The President said), if I were in his shoes, I would be doing the same and I’m sure he would have done the same kung siya ‘yung (if he were) Filipino President kaya that makes him a good president and he deserves to be reelected,” he said.

Duterte himself has repeatedly branded Trump as his “friend.”

Signed between Manila and Washington in 1998, the VFA allows visiting US troops to visit the Philippines without passport and visa, as well as to use their permits and licenses in the host country.

Duterte terminated the VFA following the cancellation of US visa of his ally, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and Senator Ronald dela Rosa.

Apart from dela Rosa’s canceled US visa, the travel ban imposed on Philippine officials linked to Senator Leila de Lima’s arrest, the American senators’ call to release de Lima, and the passage of the Senate resolution condemning Duterte’s drug war were also the among reasons for the VFA revocation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sent the formal termination notice to the US government on February 11. It will take effect 180 days after the notification of the Philippines to the US.

Trump earlier said he was “fine” with Duterte’s revocation of VFA since Washington will be able to “save a lot of money.”

Panelo said Duterte was convinced that Trump understands the Filipino leader’s latest move.

Although the Duterte administration appreciates the US’s help in crushing the Islamic State terrorists during the Marawi siege in May 2017, Panelo reiterated that it is time for the Philippines to strengthen its own defense capabilities and learn to “stand on its own.”

He, meanwhile, criticized online news site Rappler for publishing an article titled “Panelo contradicts Panelo: No Trump, Duterte phone call after all” on February 13.

Panelo said he never confirmed that there would be a phone call between Duterte and Trump, but “expected” the two leaders to speak to each other over the phone. PNA.GOV.PH