Why is Malacañang panicking over the U.S. visa ban on officials involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of Senator Leila de Lima that has yet to be implemented?
The panic was obvious in the President’s order at the beginning of the New Year that aside from banning the three American senators—Richard Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Markey of Massachusetts from entering the country—he had wanted “to require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa.”
The order would trash the current policy of a 30-day visa-free privilege for U.S. citizens.
That is, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, should officials involved in the imprisonment of de Lima be denied a visa to the U.S as provided for in the U.S. Appropriations Act of 2020.
The entry prohibition can be found under the State Department budget, U.S. Senate Committee Report 116-126, which accompanies Senate Bill 2583. It’s stated there that the Secretary of State shall ban from entering the United States foreign government officials “about whom… (he)… has credible information have been involved in the “wrongful imprisonment of …..Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017,” in pursuance of the 2012 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Perhaps, Malacañang realized the complications and burden that Duterte’s counter visa ban would cause hundreds of thousands of Filipino-Americans who comprise a big part of visitors to the country because, Panelo, in an interview with ANC’s Christian Esguerra, said the no visa-no entry would not apply to Balikbayans, former Filipino citizens who had been naturalized in another country and who come or return to the Philippines. “Of course with respect to Balikbayans, there’s a law that (has) given them dual citizenships. So they can come in," he said.
Panelo is still not correct because not all Balikbayans from the United States have taken up dual citizenships.
It’s perfectly understandable that Duterte is insulted, after being rebuked and sanctioned by another country. But why are they panicking? A lecturer on International law noted in his Facebook post: “As of now, based on the Magnitsky Act, the U.S. 2020 Budget Act, and related documents, no travel ban is in effect.”
The Budget Law under the subheading “Prohibition on Entry” says “The Secretary of State shall apply subsection (c) to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of … De Lima.”
State Secretary Mike Pompeo has not released any name to implement the visa ban. We imagine that he has more urgent issues to attend to with the rising tension over the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani upon the order of President Trump.
The list released earlier by De Lima are just names. There are thirteen names on the list: President Rodrigo Duterte, Panelo, former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Representatives Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas, Solicitor General Jose Calida, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Public Attorneys Office chief Persida Acosta, former Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office board member Sandra Cam, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chair Dante Jimenez, Netherlands-based pro-Duterte blogger Sass Rogando Sasot, and pro-Duterte blogger RJ Nieto.
De Lima’s lawyer said the detained senator will be submitting to the State Department more names of those who are responsible for her persecution.
Those named have reasons to be worried because sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act are not limited to a visa ban. They also include freeze of US-based assets and possible criminal charges.
A primer on the Magnitzky Act says “designated perpetrators (are) publicly announced by the US government as human rights violators, are denied entry into the US, all assets they have within the US become inaccessible to them, and all US-based businesses and banks are forbidden from doing business with them or their businesses.”
The primer further states: “Being named on the US sanctions list is often followed by other accountability measures. For example, both US and international law enforcement may open investigations into possible criminal charges. A similar law is in use in Canada, and the United Kingdom and the European Union are also in the stages of creating and implementing similar laws to US domestic law that authorizes the US president to sanction perpetrators of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and corruption through US-based asset freezes and visa bans."
True, as of now, the visa ban stated in the U.S 2020 budget is not in effect yet. But it’s a warning.
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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.