By Daniel Llanto
US President Donald Trump just signed the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2020 which contained an amendment that allows the US Secretary of State to bar from American soil Philippine officials and other individuals allegedly involved in De Lima’s “wrongful imprisonment.”
Apart from President Duterte, among the officials also blacklisted are Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, former Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, Public Attorney’s Office Chief Persida Acosta, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre II, Dante Jimenez of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office board member Sandra Cam.
The private citizens in the list include bloggers Mocha Uson and RJ Nieto.
Sen. Richard Gordon called the ban an “intrusion on the internal affairs of our country” while Sen. Panfilo Lacson said it is “unacceptable” for the US to pass a resolution calling for the dismissal of charges against De Lima and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
While Lacson acknowledged that it is the prerogative of the US to allow or deny the entry of foreign nationals into their country, he pointed out that: “It is an affront to the integrity of our courts and the country’s judicial system. Even the President or any executive official, or any member of our Congress, cannot issue a formal resolution that will encroach on the power of a co-equal branch of government.”
Sen. Francis Tolentino agreed with Lacson, saying as a sovereign state, the Philippines “deserves the appropriate respect for its judicial system and the application of its penal laws within its territory.”
“But the strong friendship between the Philippines and the United States should not be affected by this wayward provision,” Tolentino said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he would consult his colleagues on the best move the Senate could take.
Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra also believes that the US ban on the entry of Philippine officials behind the detention of Be Lima is an issue of “sovereignty and non-interference among co-equal nations.”
“I will leave it to our Foreign Affairs secretary to comment on this development,” Guevarra told reporters when asked for comment.
“This issue is much bigger than the prosecution of Sen. De Lima on drug charges under Philippine laws. This involves issues of sovereignty and non-interference among co-equal nations,” Guevarra stressed.
Guevarra was not included in the list, but he said: “I don’t give a damn s*** if I’m included in the US list. I’m the one who has to answer to my conscience.”
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. for his part recognized that the US can refuse visas to anyone, citing sovereignty. “US can refuse visas to anyone it wants for any reason,” said Locsin in a tweet.
“The PH deported a nun in that way. It is an aspect of sovereignty,” Locsin added.
Locsin argued, however, that the only way for an accused, like De Lima, to be free is after trial and if convicted, after pardon.
In another tweet, Locsin said De Lima already challenged the sufficiency of the drug-related charges against her, which she lost twice in the Supreme Court.
De Lima has denied the drug charges against her, saying they were fabricated in retaliation for her fierce criticism of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and the monitoring of his past and present human rights record when she was still the chief of the Commission on Human Rights starting in 2008.