By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
To the original two US senators banned by the Duterte administration from entering the Philippines, a third was added last week.
The American lawmakers were among the most supportive of a US ban on Philippine officials who took an active role in the imprisonment of Sen. Leila de Lima, allegedly on trumped up drug charges with highly suspicious prisoners serving as witnesses.
It was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who ordered that US senators Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Edward Markey be deemedpersona non grataand therefore banned from entering the Philippines.
Further, Duterte also wants to tighten the entry of any American to the Philippines by renewing the long scrapped requirement that they must first procure a visa before being allowed into the country.
This rule would also cover the millions of Filipino-Americans, except those who are dual citizens.
The tit-for-tat action taken by the Philippine government was slammed by Durbin, who said: “The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of Filipino Americans and so many others who travel between our nations and instead release Sen. De Lima or assure a quick and credible trial.”
Durbin added that the strong arm tactic employed by Duterte “is an insult to the Filipino-American community and the country’s democracy.”
Leahy added that the plan to require Americans to first have visas before entering the Philippines was “irrational.”
The planned visa requirement is sure to have a negative effect on the country’s tourism industry, as the US market accounts for about one million of the eight million tourists who entered the country last year.
While not yet in force, the requirement was tested last week when a Fil-Am balikbayan was almost blocked from entering the country. The inbound traveler was eventually allowed to enter after it was pointed out to Immigration officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport that the President’s plan had not yet been finalized.
There is still confusion within the Duterte administration on whether or not such a ban existed.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said, “it’s real” but Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin said last week that the US Appropriations Act of 2020 “did not implement (a) visa ban against those involved in detaining Sen. De Lima.”
Locsin added that the US senators who called for the release of De Lima were actually insulting the justices of the Supreme Court (SC).
He quoted the SC ruling contesting De Lima’s detention based on what she said were “fake, baseless” charges.
The SC said: “We are not saying you are guilty but we are saying they are sufficient.”
While the US budget law recently signed by President Donald Trump does not specify certain Philippine officials are not allowed to enter US territory, there is a provision authorizing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from taking such an action if there is “credible information” that the local officials were involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of de Lima.
For her part, De Lima said that while she has drawn up a list of the Philippine officials involved in her arrest and detention, she would not reveal its contents “without pre-empting the US State Department.”
De Lima added that her list was merely recommendatory and that the State Department “may or may not” publish the list.
An unofficial provisional list came out last week which included President Duterte on top. It was, however, pointed out that as President of the Philippines, Duterte enjoys diplomatic status and therefore cannot be blacklisted.
Still, Malacañang announced just before New Year’s Day that Duterte would be declining an invitation from President Trump to visit the US later this year.