PRRD orders immediate ban on 2 US senators supporting de Lima

By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

December 27, 2019, 5:40 pm

MANILA -- President Rodrigo R. Duterte has barred American Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy from entering the Philippines following their role in the United States' travel ban imposed on Philippine officials responsible for Senator Leila de Lima's arrest.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte's directive, which was made through a phone call on Thursday night, was meant to dispute Durbin and Leahy's claim that de Lima was "wrongfully" detained.

He, however, clarified that the President was "calm" when he gave the order.

Panelo said the President arrived at the decision to remind other countries that they cannot dictate upon the Philippines, which is an "independent and sovereign state."

"The President is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy, the imperious, uninformed and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provision in the US 2020 Budget, entry to the Philippines," Panelo said in a press conference.  "No other state can dictate upon our officials, judges, and justices the method upon which we enforce or interpret our laws vis-à-vis those who are believed to have committed a violation against the same."

Philippine officials who allegedly have a hand in the "wrongful" detention of de Lima are now banned from entering Washington, as stated in the provision included in the USD1.4-trillion US budget for 2020 signed by US President Donald Trump.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 following her supposed involvement in the rampant narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary when she was still justice secretary.

The travel ban imposed on de Lima's alleged jailers was part of the amendments to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Section of the budget program introduced by Durbin and Leahy days before the signing of the document last week.

The “Prohibition on Entry” section states that the US Secretary of State “shall apply sub-section (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.”

Panelo, however, maintained that de Lima was not politically persecuted.

He said the Philippine court ruled to arrest de Lima, based on sufficient evidence that proves her links to illegal drugs.

"The case of Senator de Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution. In fact, it is already being heard by our courts. The Philippine Supreme Court, the highest court of our land, has affirmed the incarceration of Senator de Lima as valid and lawful," Panelo said.

Possible visa application for US citizens 

Panelo said the US' travel ban was deemed ineffective, considering that de Lima was "not wrongfully imprisoned."
He also debunked the claim that the US Secretary of State has obtained "credible" information about de Lima's supposed political persecution.

"The Palace has explained that the subject provision is inefficacious given that the Filipina senator is not 'wrongfully imprisoned' and therefore, the impossibility for the US Secretary of State to receive 'credible information' with regard thereto," Panelo said.

He said any form of pressure by other states that is tantamount to interference in the Philippines' established justice system "shall be reciprocated in accordance with our municipal law, as well as public international law or the law of the nations."

Panelo then warned that the Duterte government might be compelled to impose a visa application for all US citizens who wish to visit the Philippines, in case Washington denies entry to Filipino officials linked to de Lima's arrest.

"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," he said.

"Napakaswerte nga sila, hindi sila binibigyan ng visa samantalang tayo nagpapakahirap. Masyado silang naging privileged (They are very fortunate because they do not need to apply for visa, while we are having a difficult time getting a US visa. They have become too privileged)."

Panelo said the President would not hesitate to issue an executive order that would require all US citizens to secure a visa before they can go to the Philippines.

Not a 'knee-jerk reaction'

Panelo said Duterte's fresh order should serve as a reminder to the US that the Philippines is "no longer under (its) control."

He denied that the Chief Executive made a "knee-jerk" reaction, noting that it was just a "natural" response of a head of state when the sovereignty of his country is "being assailed."

"Unang-una (First and foremost), we can't even understand why they consider the detention of de Lima wrongful kasi may processes tayo (because we have processes)," Panelo said. "That is why I said, I hope and I think, I believe the US Secretary of State will render an educated and informed judgment on this particular issue." (PNA)