MANILA – US President Donald Trump has signed into law the US 2020 budget which includes an amendment authorizing the US secretary of state to stop the US entry of those behind Sen. Leila de Lima’s detention.
Trump signed the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2020 on Friday, Dec. 20, part of the US government’s $1.4-trillion spending package.
A provision in the budget on “Prohibition on Entry” allows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “apply sub-section (c) 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.”
Subsection (c) refers to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, a US law which authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the US.
The provision in the US budget expressly classifies unjust or wrongful detention as part of “gross violation of human rights.”
The same provision also applies the ban to Egyptian government officials who jailed a sick American citizen as well as government officials of Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia who detained locally-employed staff of a US diplomatic mission or a US citizen or national.
On December 17, De Lima cited the initial list of those responsible for her arrest and detention. These include:
-President Rodrigo Duterte
-Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo
-Online personalities Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot, RJ Nieto (or Thinking Pinoy)
-Former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Public Attorneys’ Office chief Persida Acosta, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, Reps. Rey Umali and former Rep. Rudy Fariñas
Democrat Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy authored the amendment which the US Senate Appropriations Committee passed in September.
The two are among 5 US senators who earlier called on the Duterte administration to release De Lima, a known critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
On December 12, a separate US Senate panel passed a resolution proposed by Durbin and Sen. Edward Markey calling on the US President to impose sanctions on Philippine government officials who were behind De Lima’s arrest and detention as well as those responsible for the extrajudicial killings, in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Act.
The resolution condemned De Lima’s detention, calling her a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.”
De Lima was arrested in February 2017 initially charged with illegal drug trading but Department of Justice prosecutors spent months amending the information to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading despite De Lima’s objection.
De Lima was arraigned only in August 2018 or 18 months after she was arrested.
Six judges have also withdrawn from handling the cases either by inhibiting from the case or by retiring.