Duterte’s ‘suntok, yakap’ style earned respect — Locsin

Guesting in Daily Tribune’s Straight Talk digital program on 17 January 2023, Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom Teodoro Locsin Jr. (middle) said former president Rodrigo R. Duterte managed to erase the notion that the Philippines is an American lapdog in Asia.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte’s brash, no-holds-barred rants even against the high and mighty earned the Philippines respect in the international community, particularly his “suntok, yakap” style, according to ex-Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

In an interview on the Daily Tribune’s Straight Talk, Locsin, who is now serving as Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom, lauded the character displayed by the former president which earned him respect, even from the Americans.

While heavily criticized locally for his “indecisiveness” about the supposed abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, Locsin said Duterte managed to erase the notion that the Philippines is an American lapdog in Asia.

“One thing about Duterte, he’ll take all the hits, etc. He never asks for any consolation,” he said.

The VFA is a 1998 military deal signed by Manila and Washington that allows American troops to join military drills in the Philippines sans the need to secure a passport and visa.

Duterte threatened the US by abrogating the military deal following the cancellation of the visa of Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa — his known ally and implementer of his controversial war on drugs.

De la Rosa’s US visa was canceled due to the alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.

Locsin recalled that he attempted to stop the issuance of the official notice of termination of the two-decade-old agreement to the US after Duterte ordered its abrogation in February 2020.

“He (Duterte) did it so well but remember every time he did ‘suntok,’ Babes (Romualdez) was in Washington and the one thing about Washington is if you hit them, you’re finished,” he said.

“I mean they really don’t talk to you, etc. I tried to stop the abolition of the US bases but it went through,” he added.

Termination process
The termination process, however, did not prosper after Duterte ordered its suspension a year after due to the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the threats in the West Philippine Sea due to China’s alleged harassment of Filipino fisherfolk.

The following year, Duterte, once again, extended the suspension of the VFA termination process for another six months or until August 2021.

In July 2021, Duterte formally declared that the VFA will remain in effect, following his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Malacañang.

Locsin recalled what happened in the said meeting in the Palace as the incident showed the Philippines’ dominance over the superpower.

“He goes back in and then very casually tells us that: ‘Oh that visiting forces agreement you want? Do you want it restored? Go see Teddy Boy tomorrow,” he said.

“This is the way to do it because it showed that fine, you know, don’t push us around, because we can as easily restore it as take it out,” he added.

The country’s former top diplomat also recalled his meeting with the US Foreign Relations Committee and a “very powerful senator” whom he did not identify.

“I said, ‘You got the visiting Forces Agreement. You got everything back, so it’s going to be all normal from now on?’ He looked at me and says: ‘No! It will never be normal again. Because now we respect you,’” he said.

‘Duterte in US’
Locsin disclosed that Duterte was supposed to go to Washington to attend the restoration of the VFA.

“One day he says to me: Remember my vow, I’ll never go to the United States. Well since you and Babes have already given everything back. I don’t see why I shouldn’t,” he said.

To recall, the controversial president vowed in 2017 that he would never go to the US, which he called a “lousy” country.

Locsin said Duterte was supposed to attend the US-ASEAN Summit in Washington last year, which was supposed to be held in February.

Due to various reasons, however, such as issues with the availability of other ASEAN leaders, the plan did not materialize.

Duterte, saying that he will be a “ghost in Washington,” refused to commit to the plan as the event will be held in May, which will coincide with the week before the presidential elections, according to the envoy.

He instead tasked Locsin and Romualdez to attend the summit, where his counterpart, US President Joe Biden, prepared to show the US’ commitment to Southeast Asia.

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