Not 'fake news': Documents show U.S. sanctions vs De Lima accusers

MANILA, Philippines – Pro-Duterte blogger RJ Nieto has claimed that the US sanctions denying entry to Philippine government officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima were false, citing provisions in the US 2020 budget to support his point.

How accurate were his findings? Nieto's Facebook post, shared over 6,300 times, showed only selective provisions of the US 2020 budget and left out relevant provisions in related budget documents that point to the inclusion of a travel ban against those involved in De Lima's detention.

It is important to note that the US budget, unlike that of the Philippine government, is not contained in a single document. Instead, enacted budgets for different departments are contained in several documents, which all form part of the final 2020 US budget.

Nieto himself was among the individuals De Lima initially identified to have been involved in her detention, along with Duterte supporters and online bloggers Mocha Uson and Sass Rogando Sasot.

FAKE NEWS. Thinking Pinoy blogger RJ Nieto, appeared at the Senate hearing on fake news online in 2017.  File photo by Rappler

FAKE NEWS. Thinking Pinoy blogger RJ Nieto, appeared at the Senate hearing on fake news online in 2017.

File photo by Rappler

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo likewise said in a radio interview on Saturday, December 28, that Philippine Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez confirmed that the ban was included in the final 2020 US budget.

"I was talking to Ambassador Babe Romualdez sinasabi niyang chineck daw nila 'yung batas, meron nga raw. Totoo 'yung ban. (I was talking to Ambassador Babe Romualdez and he said they checked the US law, and indeed there was a ban. It's true there is a ban)," Panelo said in an interview with DZIQ. 

A member of the staff of US Senator Richard Durbin likewise announced the inclusion of the ban in the final 2020 budget through a tweet on December 18. Durbin's staff had also later relayed to De Lima that the sanctions had been approved, as President Donald Trump signed the US 2020 budget that included a provision prohibiting the entry of the concerned Philippine officials. (READ: What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war)

Rappler traced various provisions in several documents, which pertained to the US State Department's 2020 budget where the provision on sanctions against Philippine officials involved in De Lima's case was found.

Document 1: US 2020 consolidated budget

Nieto claimed that there was no mention of the ban in the consolidated 2020 budget of the US government.

"Despite multiple news reports attesting to the existence of such an entry ban, the entire bill did not mention the character strings 'de Lima', 'wrongful', 'imprisonment', i.e. there is no provision in the signed HR 1865 that contains the text as described in the various Philippine news reports published over the past week," he said.

This claim is debunked by an important provision in this document, called the "explanatory statement," which said that the accompanying explanatory statement in the congressional report on the State Department's 2020 budget "shall have the same effect with respect to the allocation of funds...as if it were a joint explanatory statement of a committee of conference."

Screenshot from consolidated 2020 US budget

This statement pointed to a second document containing the explanatory statement to the US State Department's budget.

Document 2: Congressional record of the US 2020 consolidated budget

This separate document placed in writing another explanatory statement specific to the State Department budget. The explanatory statement said that in implementing its own budget, the State Department is "directed to comply with the directives, reporting requirements, and instructions" found in accompanying Senate and House reports, "unless specifically directed to the contrary."

The document makes clear that while some provisions of accompanying House and Senate reports were reiterated in its text "for emphasis or clarification," failure to do so "does not negate language in such reports unless expressly provided herein."

In other words, provisions of accompanying Senate and House reports remained valid even if they were not reiterated in this document.

Screenshot from Congressional record of the US 2020 consolidated budget

The explanatory statement found on this document also stated that if the House and Senate reports contained contradictory orders, such provisions would be considered "negated."

In the case of the Senate report on the State Department's 2020's budget – where the sanctions against those involved in De Lima's detention are contained – no express provision negating this was found in the document.

The provision – an amendment introduced to the State department's budget in September – was also passed by both the House and Senate. 

Document 3: Senate report on the State Department's 2020 budget

This leads to the Senate report on the State Department's 2020 budget, which remained valid and in force, by way of the two previous explanatory statements.

On this document, a provision on the prohibition on entry against De Lima's accusers is found expressly in the following text:

"Prohibition on Entry – The Secretary of State shall apply...to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of...Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017. "

Screenshot from Senate report on the 2020 US Department of State budget

The inclusion of this in the State Department budget's general provision effectively makes it valid for the US Secretary of State to enforce. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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