President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech after leading the distribution of benefits to former rebels at the San Isidro Central School in Leyte on Jan. 23, 2020. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Cabinet officials to “boycott” the United States, days after starting the process of terminating the 1998 PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) over a visa row.

Duterte also said he won’t attend a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders with US President Donald Trump in Las Vegas in March, “for strategic and geopolitical considerations.”

Duterte told reporters he was “slowly toning down” relations between Manila and Washington, following the cancellation of the US visa of a key political ally, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the former national police chief, supposedly over his role in the government’s bloody drug war.

On Wednesday, Duterte reiterated his decision to end the VFA, which gave legal status to American soldiers visiting the country for training and exercises, over the visa issue.

“I am terminating. I was not joking. The day I said it was the day that I decided it should be terminated,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the anniversary celebration of the social welfare department in Quezon City.

Addressing criticisms that the decision was a knee-jerk reaction to the cancellation of dela Rosa’s visa and put personal above national interest, Duterte said he had made up his mind during discussions in the US Senate regarding a resolution barring the entry to the US of Filipino officials involved in the detention of opposition senator Leila de Lima.

De Lima, a leading critic of the drug war, maintains her innocence as regards the drug trafficking charges filed against her.

“Alam mo sabi nila na it’s my — subject to my whim, ‘yung kapritso. No. It started when they mentioned about the resolution in the US Senate. They were trying to figure — trying to figure out who would be the persons who’d be barred from entering,” Duterte said.

“Pero at that time I have decided that if they do this… And I will do it not only for dela Rosa but for every Filipino. Lalo na ‘yung mga taga-gobyerno na magpunta doon supposedly to attend a business concern officially,” he added.

Duterte said he would exempt from the ban officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs. “But I will not allow any Cabinet member to go there at this time. No Cabinet member should be allowed to go to the United States,” he said.

“Indefinitely. So that we limit our contact in whatever aspect of international relations would be discussed or subject to talks,” he added.

Assert Senate role — Drilon

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday called for a resolution to assert the role of the Senate in cases of treaty termination or withdrawal.

“The power to bind the Philippines by a treaty and international agreement is vested jointly by the Constitution in the President and the Senate,” Drilon’s proposed Senate Resolution 305 stated.

Drilon cited Article VII, Section 21 of the Constitution, which provides” that “no treaty of international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”

“A treaty or international agreement ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate becomes part of the law of the land and may not be undone without the shared power that put it into effect,” the proposed resolution said. (