It took the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassim Solaimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps by a US drone strike in Baghdad for the Iraqi Parliament to pass a non-binding resolution demanding the expulsion of  US forces in Iraq. The US threatened Iraq with sanctions, so the resolution was never implemented. It took the cancellation of Sen. Roland “Bato” de la Rosa’s visa by the US government for President Rodrigo Duterte to threaten the revocation of the 1999 US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, if the former Philippine National Police chief’s visa is not renewed.

The VFA was concluded in 1998 between US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard and Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. and ratified in 1999, after extensive debates in the Senate where I joined Sen. Blas Ople and Rodolfo Biazon in defending the Senate resolution of concurrence on the floor. It survived a Supreme Court challenge, and is to remain in force until six months after either party decides to terminate it.

DU30’s threat is not half as serious as a declaration of war, nor a threat to revoke the 1951 US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty, from which the VFA flows, or the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. But it is hardball.

As PNP chief, De la Rosa ran DU30’s drug war under “Operation Tokhang.”  Sources at the Commission on Human Rights estimate 27,000 drug suspects have perished in the drug killings. But not until now has DU30 raised the personal interest of any of his drug war minions to the level of our strategic national security interests involving  external defense.

Rescinding the VFA will do just that.  The stability of our security ties with the world’s lone superpower will now depend on whether there is a US visa on Senator Bato’s passport.  Our highest national security interests would have become hostage to Bato’s ability to travel to the US. I cannot imagine a worse trivialization of government. It is simply absurd. Terminating the VFA may or may not be a good thing, but even if it were the right thing, doing it for Bato makes us guilty of what Eliot called “the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

In another administration, the US government revoked the visa of a well-known and powerful Filipino senator whose name cannot perhaps be mentioned in the same breath as the present one. This was  Juan Ponce Enrile, now 96 years old, the country’s longest serving defense secretary and an unflinching US supporter. This happened long before the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act came into being, long after he led the US-supported military revolt that ousted Marcos.

Somehow the information leaked,  but Enrile himself never spoke about it, never made a fuss about it, and we never found out why his visa was revoked. It was, I learned later, eventually restored. For all his power then, he never made his personal affair the national government’s concern. Now DU30’s hardball on behalf of his former Tokhang chief takes us into an altogether different realm.

Why should the US do this to one of DU30’s closest proteges while President Donald Trump is trying to get DU30 to attend a special US-Asean summit in Las Vegas this March?  Is the State Department trying to torpedo DU30’s possible participation in the summit? I don’t believe so.

To the contrary, it is possible State has decided to go after Bato, so that Trump could receive the DU30 in all civility, without having to appear too contemptuous of the US Senate resolution seeking sanctions on officials of his government involved in the extrajudicial drug killings since 2016 or in the “wrongful” detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, who has come to be known as a “prisoner of conscience.”

In other words, Bato could be the sacrificial lamb to propitiate the Democratic gods on Capitol Hill.  If they see Bato lost his US visa after and because of their resolution, they might not mind it so much if, for the duration of the proposed summit, DU30 gets a reprieve from the US government.  This is a reasonable scenario if Trump wants DU30 that badly in Las Vegas. But if this is the real play, it may be a little too subtle for Malacañang to read. In an interview with Russian television RT, DU30 said he was  inclined to decline the invitation. Bato himself has asked DU30 to accept, but if he does not reconsider, that would be a big snub and slap on Trump, and it could have dire consequences.

The last time a Filipino president did anything like that  was on September 13, 2000, when Joseph Ejercito Estrada received US Defense Secretary William Cohen in Malacañang. Cohen was carrying a letter from President Bill Clinton asking Erap to forego a military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in Basilan and Sulu, for fear it might endanger the life of one Jeffrey Schilling, an American citizen who had walked into the kidnappers’ camp. Erap and Clinton had a friendly encounter at the APEC summit in Auckland the year before. Clinton was supposed to have asked Erap, “why do you have all the sex, while I get the scandal?”

Now, after reading Clinton’s letter, Erap said it was too late to recall his order, which he had given the day before. When Cohen suggested he should at least speak to Clinton on the phone, Erap said it would serve no purpose at all. On Nov. 13, 2000 Estrada was impeached on charges of bribery and corruption. He was later ousted in a coup after his impeachment trial had broken down, and replaced by his vice president,Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. No one has ever claimed it was a Washington clandestine operation, but no one has ever ruled out Clinton’s possible involvement either.

Francisco S. Tatad was senator from 1992 to 2001.