Tuesday, December 31, 2019

US senator tells Duterte admin to stop new visa rule threats

A United States lawmaker joined his colleague in asking the Philippine government anew to release Sen. Leila de Lima instead of requiring visas for American citizens who want to enter the country.

In a statement Tuesday (Manila time), Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois slammed Malacañang’s threat to impose visa restrictions on visiting US citizens.
American citizens currently enjoy 30-day visa-free stay in the Philippines. “Illinois is proudly home to a vibrant, hardworking Filipino community. The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of these 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 said.

He added: “This strong-arm tactic is an insult to the Filipino American community and the country’s democracy.” In a briefing last week, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Philippines will require Americans to secure visas before entering the country should the US Secretary of State bans local officials linked to the incarceration of De Lima from traveling to the US.

This provision was included in the US National Budget for 2020 signed by President Donald Trump this month. Durbin and fellow Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who introduced the said provision, were banned from entering the country.

Leahy on Sunday also called on the Philippine government to free de Lima immediately or provide her “fair, public trial” instead of “irrationally threatening to deny visas to American citizens.”

De Lima’s continued detention

“Her release, which has been championed by groups such as Amnesty International—and now the US Congress—is unfortunately symbolic of the larger price one increasingly pays for peaceful dissent and honest journalism under President Duterte in the Philippines,” Durbin said. De Lima, an outspoken critic of the Duterte administration, was jailed in 2017 over drug charges filed by the Department of Justice. She is accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was Justice secretary during the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III.

She repeatedly denied the allegations, saying the charges against her are politically motivated and trumped-up.

Although there have been procedural delays on her case, De Lima is already being tried at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court and the Supreme Court has ruled that media should be allowed to cover hearings. Durbin, in his statement, also pointed to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who is currently facing cyberlibel charges. Ressa and her media outfit have been on the receiving end of the president’s tirades and lawsuits, which some media groups say are attack on press freedom.

“These voices, like De Lima’s and Rappler journalist Maria Ressa’s, face harassment and imprisonment for fostering honest coverage regarding the country’s sweeping extrajudicial killings, which is an affront to the cherished democratic norms we share with our long standing Filipino allies,” he said.
SOURCE: www.philstar.com