Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has maintained that the United States has a right to impose entry restrictions on foreigners who are deemed responsible for gross human rights violations and abuses for political retribution in their countries, which include Philippine government officials involved in her “wrongful imprisonment.”
De Lima made the statement after Malacañang and some of her Senate colleagues criticized the decision of a United States Senate panel to approve the proposed visa ban on Filipino government officials found to be involved in her unjust detention.
“US Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy’s bill instructs their own State Department to restrict entry to the US of certain individuals involved in human rights violations in their countries,” she said.
“It is the prerogative of the US to impose an ‘entry ban’ on Filipino officials involved in human rights violations and abuses. This is in no way meddling in our country’s internal affairs. Countries, including the US, are sovereign on who they want to allow or disallow into their territory,” she added.
US Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, together with fellow Democrat Patrick Leahy, filed an amendment to the US Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill to deny the entry of any Philippine government official involved in De Lima’s “wrongful imprisonment.”
In a recent tweet, Durbin announced that the US Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment on Sept. 27, which states that the US Secretary of State shall apply the subsection on the prohibition of entry “to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of [Sen. De Lima]”.
Aside from De Lima’s case, the amended US Senate bill also referred to other cases of “wrongful detention” in other countries and sought the same prohibition on the entry of certain “officials of the governments of Turkey, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson deplored the move as a violation of the independence of the Philippine judicial system while Sen. Bong Go said he would make a parallel proposal to Mr. Duterte banning the American lawmakers here. Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo slammed it as a “brazen” intrusion on Philippine internal affairs.
“US Senators Durbin and Leahy did not propose such visa ban to personally attack Mr. Duterte, our country, and our judicial process. They only want to sanction abusive government officials by preventing them from entering their country,” De Lima said.
Senator Leahy also explained that US aid to the Philippines is “not a blank check, and when Philippine officials abuse the justice system for the purpose of political retribution, we have a responsibility to respond.”
De Lima, the first prominent political prisoner under the Duterte regime, said the idea of a visa ban is not entirely new in the US pursuant to the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018.
“The ARIA, which focuses, among others, on issues such as human rights and terrorism, especially in Southeast Asia, actually allows for the visa ban and other appropriate sanctions in the United States against foreigners involved in abuses and human rights violations,” she said.
De Lima recalls that, even before the ARIA, such sanctions have existed, particularly under the Obama-era Magnitsky Act which was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who experienced reprisal after he uncovered a tax fraud scheme that implicated Russian officials. He was imprisoned in Russia and later died in jail.
The Magnitsky Act authorized the U.S. Government to sanction human rights offenders by banning entry into the US and freezing the assets of those involved in his persecution and death.
“The Magnitsky Act has come to be known as a legitimate and powerful tool for enforcing accountability for human rights abuses perpetrated by repressive regimes, and has even inspired other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, to consider adopting similar sanctions for combating impunity,” she pointed out.
The Senator from Bicol, meanwhile, thanked Durbin and Leahy, as well as other human rights defenders, for reminding the world that the continued human rights violation under the Duterte administration do not go unnoticed.
“The amended US bill proves that impunity, while remaining unchecked in our country, may find an end in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’. Thank you, Senators Durbin and Leahy, and many other champions of justice and democracy, for reminding us that the world is still watching,” she said.
Durbin and Rubio, along with fellow US Senators Ed Markey, Marsha Blackburn and Chris Coons, earlier filed US Senate Resolution No. 142 calling for the release of De Lima whom they called as “a prisoner of conscience” who was “detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.”
De Lima has been detained on trumped-up and politically-motivated drug trade charges fabricated by the Duterte administration due to personal and political vendetta, yet she continues to gain support from the international community and human rights advocates who have expressed serious concern over her illegal arrest.