There are now three US senators covered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s ban from entering the Philippines.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that Duterte banned US Senator Edward Markey for supporting a US travel ban on Filipino officials linked to the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.
“Eh kasi parang lumalabas sa mga news items na very strong ang endorsement ni Markey (News items show that Marky’s endorsement is a very strong one)” Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.
On Dec. 26, Duterte banned US Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy from entering the country for sponsoring the US travel ban on Filipino officials and for calling for de Lima’s release.
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.”
Markey, Durbin, and Leahy are among the five US senators behind a resolution to the 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill which sought to ban US entry to Filipino officials proven to be behind de Lima’s “wrongful imprisonment”.
Panelo said he would still ask the President if the ban would extend to other senators who supported the entry ban.
“Siguro yung tatlo ang lumalabas na sila ang masugid. Di pa natin alam yung iba (Perhaps the three appear the most passionate. We’re not sure about the others yet),” Panelo said.
US President Donald Trump signed the 2020 national budget, which included that provision in December 2019.
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 explained that it is still on the part of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to determine “whether there is information credible enough to demonstrate a wrongful detention of the senator.”
Last week, 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 come to the Philippines.
Durbin earlier slammed Duterte’s plan of imposing visa restrictions for US citizens who wish to visit the Philippines in case Washington denies entry to Filipino officials linked to the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima, describing it as “an insult to the Filipino-American community and the country’s democracy.”
Panelo, however, clarified that Filipino-Americans or balikbayans are not covered by the planned visa restrictions.
He also denied that imposing visa restrictions was an overreaction, stating that if the US is banning Filipino government officials on the basis of what is wrong, then the Philippine government would have to do something to assert its own independence and right.
“They should realize the gravity of what they have done. They should be accountable to their voters, those who may be affected by their decision,” Panelo said.
They won’t listen
Despite efforts of Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babes” Romualdez to justify de Lima’s detention to the US senators, Panelo said the latter refused to listen and were determined to include the provision on the entry ban.
“I was texting with our US Ambassador Babes Romualdez and he said he already talked with the senators and explained to them. But they are really hell-bent on introducing that amendment. In other words, they didn’t want to listen to reason,” Panelo said in an interview over ANC.
“Well, he (Romualdez) told him that the processes in this country should be respected and he explained to him and as explained to the US ambassador how the process went through. According to the US Ambassador, they’re still decided to introduce that amendment,” he added.
Panelo said he also personally reached out to US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim after the senators introduced the provision banning the entry of Filipino officials involved in de Lima’s detention.
“I issued a statement regarding how these US senators have been either uninformed or are so gullible to believe in whatever information they received whether it’s false or not. He said, I agreed with your statement,” Panelo said.
Panelo, meanwhile, also denied anew that de Lima was “wrongfully imprisoned.”
“I cannot even understand, I’m amazed on how these senators — who are supposed to be educated ones and should be knowledgeable on the processes of their own country which is almost similar to ours — cannot understand why there can be no wrongful detention on the part of Senator de Lima,” Panelo said.
“There have been two processes that went through: One, the administrative side, which means that the Prosecutor determines whether there is probable cause or none for her to be charged in court. And the second one is the Judge himself has to examine the evidence and evaluate for himself if there is probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest. And the Supreme Court even validated that she should be detained,” he added.
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.
She has denied charges, claiming she is being persecuted because of her strong stance against the administration’s aggressive crackdown on illegal drugs. (PNA)