Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Third US senator barred from Philippines, Philippine government hit over threats of new visa rules vs US

Another American senator has been barred from entering the Philippines after voicing support for a US travel ban on Philippine officials deemed responsible for the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug charges.

Malacañang confirmed that Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey has joined fellow Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy, authors of the entry ban amendment, in the list of American lawmakers barred from entering the Philippines. “Yes,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a text message last Monday when asked to confirm information that Markey has been prohibited from coming to the country.

Panelo said Markey was included in the ban for supporting the travel restriction against officials involved in the detention of De Lima.

Last month, United States President Donald Trump signed into law the 2020 US budget containing an amendment that authorizes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to prohibit individuals behind De Lima’s detention from entering the US. A provision on “Prohibition on Entry” allows the secretary of state to deny US entry to officials involved in De Lima’s detention “based on credible information,” as well as apply the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act by imposing sanctions on individuals tagged in human rights violations, including freezing their US assets.

President Duterte retaliated by ordering an entry ban against Durbin and Leahy and threatening to require Americans to secure visas before coming to the Philippines. Panelo has said the possible change in visa rules for Americans is the administration’s way of resisting attempts by foreigners to meddle in the Philippines’ processes.

Markey was one of five US senators behind a resolution calling for the release of De Lima, who has been in detention since 2017 on charges that she received money from convicted drug lords and allowed the drug trade to flourish in the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary.

De Lima has denied the allegations, saying she is being persecuted because of her critical stance on Duterte’s murderous anti-drug campaign. In the resolution, Markey, Durbin and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Christopher Coons of Delaware called De Lima “a prisoner of conscience” in detention “solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.”

Malacañang called the resolution “an unwelcome intrusion to the country’s domestic legal processes and an outrageous interference with our nation’s sovereignty.”

In a statement, Durbin warned it’s the Filipino-Americans who would bear the brunt of Duterte’s own travel restrictions. Instead of “irrationally” threatening visa restrictions on US visitors, Durbin said the Duterte administration should just release De Lima.< “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 Senator De Lima or assure a quick and credible trial,” Durbin said.

“This strong-arm tactic is an insult to the Filipino American community and the country’s democracy,” he said.

De Lima, he said, has been in jail for more than 1,000 days on highly questionable charges. “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.

He also mentioned Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and referred to her and De Lima as “voices who 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.”

Leahy on Sunday also slammed the Philippine government’s “irrational” threat to require visas for
US citizens entering the country.