President Trump’s invitation to President Duterte to visit the United States still stands, the country’s Embassy in Manila has confirmed.
Embassy spokeswoman Molly Koscina issued the response when asked if the return of the Balangiga bells would pave the way for a presidential visit to the US.
“President Trump has extended invitation to President Duterte when they met in November 2017 for the Asean Summit. I know that they have been in communication, and the invitation is open,” she said.
At his State of the Nation Address in May, the president said that he could never have a “good rapport” with the US unless the bells were returned to the Philippines.
Then, in July, he said his packed schedule and dislike for long flights were the only things stopping him from accepting Trump’s invitation.
“If it could only be a regional flight where I can go fly in and fly out in the evening, that would be very easy. But the long haul of 13, 14 hours would kill me,” he said.
Previously, in October 2016, the president said in a speech in Beijing that he was cutting his country’s ties with the US in favour of better relations with China. During the same visit, he also claimed that he had been denied a US visa in the past.
However, in her statement today, Koscina said the return of the bells was just “one of the many proofs of the enduring and important relationship of the Philippines and the United States”.
“There are many US citizens of Filipino descent, we have ties in education and history, US business contribute to the Philippine economy, the biggest taxpayer in the Philippines is an American company, the biggest employer in the Philippines is an American company, the US is the number one destination of Philippine products for the first half of 2018,” she said.
“We know how important our military relationship is, Balikatan exercises [military exercises involving Filipino and American troops] happened for 34 times now, we are fighting terrorists with US support on intelligence and tactics, including that in Marawi. The Philippines is the largest recipient of military assistance in the region.
“The return of the Bells is just another piece of evidence of how much we value or relationship.”
It was announced by the Malacañang today that the president will not be attending tomorrow’s formal hand-over of the bells.