Opposition rallies behind move
MANILA - Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez has expressed concern over the proposal of two US senators to ban Philippine officials involved in the detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.
In an interview, Romualdez said the proposal of US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy was "unfortunate," citing how due process was observed in the filing of non-bailable drug charges against De Lima.
The Philippine senator has been held since February 2017 on allegations made by high-profile convicts that she was involved in the drug trade at the state penitentiary when she was justice chief. De Lima, a staunch administration critic, has called the charges political persecution.
"Well... That’s very unfortunate… I think we have a very good relation with the US... We are a sovereign country, we have our laws and the charges that were filed against the senator have been accepted by the prosecutor’s office -- that there is in fact evidence to show that she was linked to the drug charges," the envoy said in an interview Friday in New York.
"We just have to simply insist that all those countries that are… especially the US, this is an internal matter and I think the President’s Office, Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Panelo has clearly said that we will not accept any kind of interference coming from other nations."
Leahy and Durbin had proposed an amendment in the 2020 State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill to deny entry of any Philippine government officials involved in De Lima's detention.
The US Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment Friday, which states that "the Secretary of State shall apply subsection [prohibition on entry] 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 said the US Senate's move is a "brazen" attempt to intrude into the Philippines' internal affairs, saying it treats Manila as an "inferior state."
Romualdez said he has received calls from his "senator friends" from the Philippines who broached the idea of filing a counterpart measure.
"They’ve indicated that they'd like to file the same thing, and also ban some officials of the US from coming in to the Philippines, I’m hoping this will not go this far, because, you know -- we’re here in the US to have a good relationship with this country," said Romualdez without naming the Filipino senators who reached out to him.
In a statement, Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez pounced at Durbin, saying his "brazen move to interfere with the internal affairs of our independent and sovereign nation makes him appear a moron at least, stupid at best."
"He should be reminded that the Philippines is no longer an American colony. For him to think and act that way shows his misguided messianic complex," said Alvarez, a close administration ally.
"Who is he to meddle into internal matters that have gone through the Philippine court systems and legal processes and suddenly, sweepingly - arrogantly even - call these as merely "politically motivated?" he added, saying Durbin should mind his own jurisdiction.
De Lima thanks 'home of the brave, land of the free'
De Lima, meanwhile, welcomed the US lawmakers' move, calling it a reminder that "the world is still watching."
"The proposal of US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy to impose a visa ban against abusive Philippine government officials is a clear message that impunity, while remaining unchecked in our country, may find an end in the “home of the brave and the land of the free," she said in a statement sent from detention.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the move is "a stern warning to all those who rose to power in our country through killings and human rights abuses."
"The world is watching. And the world will act. There is a day of reckoning. Justice will eventually catch up with all of you," she said in a statement.
Erin Tañada, the opposition Liberal Party's vice president for external affairs, also lauded the US senators' act, saying it may be making administration officials "jittery."
"The specter of human rights violations and irreparable havoc caused by the drug war and injustice done to its critics are slowly haunting this administration," he said in a statement.
- with a report from Don Tagala, ABS-CBN News