President Duterte on Monday admitted that he has no intention of visiting the United States with only less than a year left to his presidency.
“If I go to America (it has) to be in my own time. I’ve not been to America for almost 22 years. I don't have any intention of visiting it anymore,” Duterte said during his State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Duterte instead blamed the media for peddling the story of his intent to visit the United States, especially during the term of former US President Donald Trump with whom he has developed a close friendship.
The talks about the supposed US visit became imminent more than three years ago when Trump invited him to visit the US.
Around that time, the President said a group of retired American soldiers, one of them an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to see him at Camp Aguinaldo to verbally relay Trump’s invitation.
As a precondition, Duterte said he told the visiting Americans to first work for the return of the Balangiga bells to the Philippines before he could decide if he will push through with the US visit.
“I said no, I do not like the way you’re treating my country. I said for one, there was a clamor now on Balangiga. You return the bells of Balangiga... Sabi ko sa mga Amerikano (I told the Americans), yes, I might consider going to America. In two months' time they told me that the ship carrying the Balangiga are on their way to delivery to Quezon,” the President recalled.
When the bells were returned and reinstalled to their proper places, the Americans came back to ask him about his promise to make the US visit.
“I lost time to do it, I cannot do it now. In my mind there was never in my mind a trip to America,” Duterte said.
He recalled the significance of the historic bells as a symbol of the bloody event that left many people brutally killed, including women and children, as well as to the Catholic faithful in the town of Balangiga.
“Because that bell was used by the people for prayers, simbahan (the church). America knew that it has a great significance to the Filipinos after the massacre of one barangay. How many at that time, we would never know. But it was said, one barrio. You got it at the expense of the blood of Filipinos,” he explained.
Duterte, however, admitted that he acted in “bad faith” when he told the Americans that he will consider the US visit once the bells are returned to the Philippines.
“We welcomed back Balangiga after many decades because of the historic wrong that needed to be corrected,” he said.
The bells of Balangiga were returned to the Philippines in December 2018, more than 100 years after they were taken by American soldiers as war trophies in 1901 during the Philippine-American War. They were re-installed at the Balangiga Church in Eastern Samar.