PH bars entry of 2 U.S. senators who proposed ban on De Lima accusers

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Bureau of Immigration to deny entry to two US senators who pushed for a ban on Philippine officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced on Friday, December 27.

US senators Dick Durbin (Illinois) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) had amended the US 2020 budget law to include a provision denying entry to government officials involved in De Lima's "wrongful imprisonment."

Panelo called Durbin and Leahy "imperious, uninformed, and gullible," during a briefing with reporters in Malacañang.

Duterte also wants "Americans" to apply for Philippine visas if the US government enforces the ban. US citizens are currently allowed to enter and stay in the Philippines for up to 30 days without a visa.

Denying that a provision in the US 2020 budget law amounts to an "outright ban," Panelo said the US government is bound to find no reason to deny entry to any Filipino over De Lima's case because her detention is "lawful" in the first place.

"Should a ban from entry into US territory be enforced against Philippine officials involved in or by reason of Senator De Lima's lawful imprisonment, this government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory," Panelo said.

Duterte is just asserting Philippine sovereignty against the US' "interference," added Panelo, who is also the President's chief legal counsel.

Wrongful imprisonment

On Monday, December 23, US President Donald Trump signed the 2020 budget law that includes the provision on De Lima's case.

The section on "Prohibition on Entry" in the general provisions of the US State Department's budget says that the US Secretary of State (currently Mike Pompeo) "shall apply subsection (c) 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."

De Lima was arrested in February 2017 for illegal drug charges based on accounts of drug convicts from the New Bilibid Prison, from whom the senator supposedly collected drug money to run her campaign in 2016.

The accusations came, fueled by Duterte and his administration, after De Lima conducted Senate inquiries into extrajudicial killings in the President's war on drugs.

Years before, as human rights chief, De Lima investigated reports of extrajudicial killings in Davao City under Duterte as mayor.

Support and calls for De Lima's release from politically-motivated detention have poured in from the international community as she recently marked her 1000th day in jail.

Several US senators also proposed a resolution invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, condemning and denouncing the detention of De Lima and other human rights defenders, including Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. (READ: What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war)

The resolution proposed to sanction Philippine officials involved in De Lima's persecution, and in extrajudicial killings. They would be denied US visas and their bank accounts and assets in the US would be frozen if the sanctions are imposed.

The US Senate has yet to adopt this resolution.

De Lima's list

De Lima earlier came up with a list of officials and personalities whom she said were involved in her persecution.

They include Duterte, Panelo, former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Public Attorney's Office Chief Persida Acosta, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, Congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas, and bloggers Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot, and RJ Nieto.

Panelo and other administration officials have downplayed the ban.

During Friday's briefing, Panelo emphasized the conditionality of requiring US citizens to secure Philippine visas, depending on whether the US would first indeed ban Philippine officials.

Because De Lima's detention is not unlawful, Panelo said, then the US Secretary of State will not find any "credible information" against any Philippine official to warrant a denial of entry to the US.

Duterte's spokesman insisted it was only "some media outlets" that called the provision in the US 2020 budget law a "ban." Nevertheless, the administration is ready to retaliate with its own set of bans. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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