Palace unfazed by possible US ban on De Lima jailers

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 23 2019 03:00 PM | Updated as of Dec 23 2019 11:54 PM

Senator Leila de Lima. File

MANILA (UPDATE) — Malacañang is unfazed by a possible ban on Philippine officials planning to enter the United States if they are proven to be involved in Senator Leila de Lima's detention.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, who was among De Lima's list, said Monday the provision cannot be simply imposed since it requires the presentation of "credible information" in the supposed "wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima.

"It cannot be just imposed because there is a colatilla, there must be credible information. If the information is not credible then the Secretary of State cannot just impose that sanction," Panelo said.

"We're not bothered by it. First, that's their process, we cannot intrude in the same way when we react when they intrude into our processes," he added.

De Lima's detention was included in the provisions of the US government's $1.4-trillion 2020 budget which was signed by US President Donald Trump last week.

Trump signs US 2020 budget banning De Lima jailers
A provision in the budget on “Prohibition on Entry” allows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to bar foreign government officials from entering the US if he has "credible information" on their involvement in the "wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima. 

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 over allegations that she received payoffs from jailed drug lords during her time as justice chief. She has repeatedly denied the allegations, blasting her detention as "political persecution."

Panelo insisted that De Lima was afforded due process as he expressed trust that Pompeo would "follow his informed judgment" over the issue.

"I suppose that the Secretary of State is better informed and better educated in the internal and judicial process of this country and would necessarily follow his informed judgment," Panelo said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra meanwhile, said that he will leave it to the foreign affairs secretary to comment on this development. 

“This issue is much bigger than the prosecution of Senator de lima on drug charges under Philippine laws. This involves issues of sovereignty and non-interference among co-equal nations. As for me, I don’t give a d*** if I’m included in the US list. I’m not the one who has to answer to my conscience,” he said. 

Sen. Ping Lacson said in a statement that allowing and denying the entry of foreigners into the territory of the US, or any country for that matter, is a matter of right of that host country. They don’t even have to justify it.

"What is unacceptable is the passage of a resolution by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that calls for the dismissal of charges against any respondent in a criminal case, in this case, Sen. de Lima and Maria Ressa," he said. 

"It is an affront to the integrity of our courts and the country’s judicial system. Even the President or any executive official, or any member of our Congress, cannot issue a formal resolution that will encroach on the power of a co-equal branch of government," Lacson added. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Bong Go said in a statement that de Lima was given all opportunities to defend herself and our courts remain independent and functional.

"They may have been misinformed. Allow me to state that there is no "wrongful imprisonment" of Sen. Leila de Lima. She is detained upon the lawful order of the court. It is even affirmed by no less than our Supreme Court sitting en banc. The drug charges against her went through our judicial process," Go said. 

Senator Tito Sotto believes that this only shows that the US meddles with other country's justice system without even investigating.

Senator Francis Tolentino, on the other hand, believes that the US has every right to bar the entry of any foreigner into their territory. 

In fact, the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 or the McCarran-Walter Act , which codified Title 8 of the United States Code is very clear, Tolentino said in a statement. 

"Even without that rider provision in the Budget, every sovereign state, has the right to forbid the entrance of foreigners within its borders. We should respect the immigration laws of the United States," he said.

"On the other hand, as a sovereign state, the Philippines deserve the appropriate respect for its judicial system and the application of its penal laws within its territory, upon the highest consideration of international comity and as an act of state. The strong friendship between the Philippines and the United States should not be affected by this wayward provision," he added.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano invited US government officials to visit the country and see for themselves the human rights situation.