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Trump’s invitation for Duterte to visit US still stands — US Embassy spox

US President Donald Trump’s invitation to President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the United States still stands, the US Embassy in Manila said Monday.

Embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina issued the response when asked if the return of the Balangiga bells — a war souvenir taken by the country’s American colonizers in the 1900s — will pave the way for Duterte’s visit to the United States.

“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 [for Duterte to visit the US] is open,” Koscina said.

Last May, Duterte said that he could never have a “good rapport” with the United States unless the Balangiga bells are returned to the Philippines. He has also called the Americans, the former colonizers of the Philippines, as imperialists in his speeches.

But in July, Duterte said his packed schedule and dislike for long flights are the ones preventing 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,” Duterte said then.

In October 2016, Duterte also said in a speech in Beijing that he was cutting the country’s ties with the United States and the Philippines will now side with China.

Such pronouncement of a break-up with the United States, however, did not translate to any concrete action.

During the same visit in Beijing, President Duterte also claimed that he was denied a US visa in the past.

But for Koscina, the return of the Balangiga bells is 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,” Koscina said.

“We know how important our military relationship is, Balikatan exercises (joint military training of Filipino and American troops) happened for 34 times now, we are fighting terrorists with US support on intelligence [work] 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,” Koscina added. — RSJ, GMA News