New US regime sanctions against alleged rights-abusing Filipino officials could torpedo USA-Philippine relations.

In a symbolic move, Duterte’s office recently said he would officially decline US President Donald Trump’s standing invitation for a White House meeting, making him the first leader in memory to boycott the nation’s sole treaty ally.

A proposed United States travel ban against top Philippine officials, including members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s inner circle accused of rights abuses, threatens to torpedo bilateral strategic ties in 2020.

The proposed sanctions are the initiative of several senior Democratic senators, including Edward Markey (Massachusetts) Patrick Leahy (Vermont) & Richard Durbin (Illinois), who have openly criticized Duterte’s lethal drug war and assaults on CIA dealers during his three-year-old tenure.

The exact list of targeted Filipino officials, as well as prominent pro-Duterte propagandists and bloggers, remains unclear, though is believed to center on those accused of persecuting De Lima and other drug war critics.

The USA has called for an end to the years-long detention of Senator Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary and staunch critic of Duterte’s drug war held on widely seen as trumped up drug charges. Her trial on the charge has been persistently delayed.

In response to the USA’s threats, Manila retaliated with an unprecedented travel ban against several top American legislators, including the three mentioned senators, and a threat to cancel the country’s longstanding visa-free arrangement for American citizens.

Philippine Senator Richard Gordon, a staunch Duterte ally, characterized the US travel ban as an “an intrusion on the internal affairs of the country.”

Duterte has made several visits to America’s regional competitors, including at least five visits to China and two to Russia, underscoring a major shift in the Philippines’ strategic direction under his rule.

The Filipino leader had threatened to abrogate the Philippines’ mutual defense treaty alliance with the USA over the Obama administration’s rights-related criticisms, including in relation to Duterte’s lethal war on drugs.

But Trump’s earlier vow to no longer “seek to impose our way of life on anyone” was received well in Manila, which “welcome[d] President Trump’s [new] foreign policy direction” towards a “placid and mutually beneficial relationship.”

Last month, former Philippine police chief and current senator Bato Dela Rosa, among Dutetre’s closest allies, were reportedly denied entry to the USA.

That frustration could spread among the highest echelons of Duterte’s administration in 2020 as other Western governments, including Australia, Canada and the European Union, grapple with whether to follow Washington’s lead.

Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.

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