Palace, US Embassy issue notes on Duterte-Trump phone call amid public doubts

April 21, 2020 - 6:48 PM
This April 19, 2020 photo shows President Rodrigo Duterte on a call with US President Donald Trump. (Sen. Bong Go/Released)

The United States Embassy in the Philippines and the Malacañang earlier released notes on the phone call between President Rodrigo Duterte and his American counterpart Donald Trump, thus dismissing doubts raised by the Filipinos that the phone call actually occurred. 

Sen. Bong Go, also Duterte’s former presidential aide, and reappointment Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque first announced that a phone call transpired between the two leaders last Sunday.  

Roque specified that the phone call was initiated by the United States and was received at 10:10 p.m. of Sunday. It lasted for 18 minutes.  

“It was cordial. It was about collaboration, bilateral coordination (on) COVID-19. But beyond that I have no authority to divulge further details,” Roque told reporters on Monday.  

“The only authority I got from the President is to say that it was about cooperation, that the Philippines and the US may cooperate on the COVID-19,” he added. 

Go similarly said that Trump and Duterte discussed their bilateral cooperation against COVID-19.

After the media release of photos of Duterte supposedly on call with Trump, some Filipinos earlier expressed skepticism that such phone call happened because the information initially provided by the Palace to the public allegedly lacked details on the leaders’ agenda.

A Twitter user argued that heads of states no longer use landlines when communicating to one another.  

Nowadays, heads of state use technology to communicate with each other,” the user @gapolicarpio said 

Twitter user @liampclancy1 recalled a similar incident last February when Palace announced that Duterte and Trump supposedly scheduled a talk over then phone and later on admitted that there was no such scheduled event.  

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, then presidential spokesperson, was the one who told reporters of the supposed phone conversation that time.   

Although Panelo did not provide details on the agenda, the call supposedly occurred after Duterte announced the termination of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement, a long-established treaty with the United States.  

When reporters asked Panelo for an update on this talk, he contradicted his earlier statement and said: “There was no schedule. There were–what do you call it, there were talks. There were initiatives.” 

Aside from the doubts on the veracity of the Duterte-Trump call, the online user also claimed that based on the photos released, Duterte appeared to be not using a secured telephone unit.  

“The LAST time Duterte allegedly had a phone call with Trump, it turned out Panelo was lying. It’s clear that Duterte isn’t even using a secured telephone unit, so I doubt there was actually a call between them unless the White House confirms it happened,” he said. 

Solidarity and assistance from the US 

On Tuesday, the United States Embassy in the Philippines issued a statement confirming a phone conversation between Duterte and Trump did happen. 

The embassy said that Trump “expressed his solidarity and offered additional assistance to the Philippines as it continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“Both leaders agreed to continue working together as long-time allies to defeat the pandemic, save lives and restore global economic strength,” the US Embassy said.  

Trump also expressed condolences for the deaths of 11 Filipino soldiers who were killed in a clash against the members of the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu last Friday.  

Moreover, both leaders discussed how they can “continue building upon the string and enduring economic, cultural and security ties binding the two nations.” 

So far, the US government provided more than P203 million in aid for the national government’s response to the new pathogen.  

The US Agency for International Development also announced working with the Department of Health to intensify their efforts to control the spread of the communicable disease.  

US also struggling with COVID-19 response

The Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak in the United States has also been severely criticized after confirmed cases and related deaths skyrocketed last March, which was also the same month when the surge of cases was reported in the Philippines.  

Based on international reportsTrump had been downplaying the threat of the new disease despite warnings from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), the public health institute in the USsince the first confirmed case was reported last January.  

Some Filipinos noticed that Trump’s supporters appeared to use the same copy-paste arguments in defending their president.  

As of April 21, there are more than 700,000 individuals who tested positive in the US with more than 42,000 deaths.