By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
While conceding the US has every right to block the entry of unwelcome individuals, the Duterte government reacted to its new appropriations law with a provision to bar Filipinos involved in the imprisonment of Sen. Leila de Lima from entering the US.
While initially expressing disbelief at the action, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo admitted over the weekend that the ban “is real.” And the Duterte administration put into effect the first of its retaliatory measures.
For starters, the two US senators who led the Congressional action — Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy — were declared persona non grataand may not enter the Philippines.
The ban on the two US senators was at the behest of the President himself.
Duterte also said that he would decline an invitation from Trump to visit the White House, set some time in 2020.
Also, the Duterte administration threatened to renew the requirement of a need to procure a visa before US citizens can enter the Philippines, a requirement that was waived decades ago.
Sen. Leahy admonished the Duterte regime, saying, “Rather than responding by irrationally threatening to deny visas to American citizens, the Duterte government should either release Sen. De Lima immediately or provide her the fair, public trial she is entitled to.”
In reply, Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said De Lima’s indictment was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Guevarra said De Lima “has been freely exercising all the rights of an accused in a fair and public trial.” He added that the Senator can only be released upon her acquittal “and not at any time upon pressure by foreign politicians.”
However, recently retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated last month his stand that “to allow the continued detention (of De Lima) is one of the grossest injustices ever perpetrated in recent memory in full view of the Filipino nation and the entire world.”
Critics of the administration frequently pointed out that the witnesses against De Lima were not only convicted drug pushers but were also being given preferential treatment while under detention, leading to accusations that they were under pressure by the Duterte administration to witness against De Lima.
As for the initial reports that the ban on Filipino government officials was nothing more than fake news, De Lima said, “Interpreting US appropriations law requires more due diligence since laws are broad and complex.”
Duterte supporters pointed out that there is no specific provision in the US law that bans Filipinos involved in De Lima’s incarceration.
“The provision banning my persecutors is stated therein and it was not specifically negated…hence, it remains in force.”
De Lima’s followers challenged the concerned government officials to find out for themselves if they are banned or not by going to the US.
At the very least, De Lima’s supporters say she should be given the chance to post bail, as there is little chance that she can escape to another country given her high visibility.
Under US law, it is US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who can identify the Philippine government officials covered by the ban.
For 2019, the Department of Tourism estimated that more than one million Americans visited the Philippines, either as tourists or on business, out of a total of eight million inbound visitors recorded for the year.
A large chunk are actually Filipino “balikbayans” who have become US citizens or their families paying visits to their parents’ or grandparents’ motherland.
Dual citizens are not covered by the ban.