Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fact check: Locsin says no provision in US federal budget banning De Lima jailers

Just a day after reports surfaced that Sen. Ronald dela Rosa had been ostensibly canceled as a result of a provision in the US budget bill banning the jailers of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima from entering the country, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. once again denied that the provision existed. "There is no such provision in the US federal budget Trump signed. None," he tweeted. The country's top diplomat often releases official statements via his personal Twitter account.

Although unconfirmed by the US Embassy, Dela Rosa said that he believed the cancellation was connected to his former role as the architect of the administration's campaign against illegal narcotics, as well as his role in the detention of the opposition senator. "I can only infer that maybe this is pursuant to the US 2020 federal budget which includes a provision banning entry to the US of certain PH govt officials involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima," he told reporters. He was referring to the US budget bill signed by US President Donald Trump on Dec. 23, 2019. Section 4 of the $1.4-trillion spending package, or H.R. 1865 reads:

The explanatory statement regarding this Act, printed in the House section of the Congressional Record on or about December 17, 2019, and submitted by the Chairwoman of the Committee on Appropriations of the House, shall have the same effect with respect to the allocation of funds and implementation of divisions A through H of this Act as if it were a joint explanatory statement of a committee of conference. This means the explanatory statement will carry the same weight as the rest of the bill, both of which are accessible on US government websites.

Division G of the explanatory statement is the Senate Bill 2583, or the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2020. Accompanying this bill is Senate Report 116-126, which touches on Financial Management and Budget Transparency and includes a clause on Prohibition on Entry that reads: The Secretary of State shall apply subsection (c) to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information (sic.) have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of: [...] Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017. The entry ban invokes the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act which gives the US executive branch the authority to impose travel restrictions and financial penalties on those deemed to be human rights violators anywhere in the world. The provision also bans officials from the Governments of Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all for imprisoning American diplomats and nationals, as well as those involved in the detention of Mustafa Kassem, "an American citizen imprisoned by the Government of Egypt and whose health is failing." Thus, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can decide which Philippine officials will be barred from entering the U.S.
Although the US State Department has not yet released a list of those barred from entry, De Lima once listed down the names of people involved in her arrest in an October release where she alleged that her detention came as a result of the efforts of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, PAO Chief Persida Acosta, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, Congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas. READ: 2020 US budget includes ban on people behind 'wrongful imprisonment' of De Lima

Locsin's pronouncement comes even after presidential mouthpiece Salvador Panelo himself confirmed in a radio interview that the entry ban indeed existed.

With his tweet, the country's top diplomat joins the likes of pro-Duterte blogger RJ Nieto, who runs Facebook page                                                                          Thinking Pinoy, in tagging the ban as "fake news."