MANILA—The United States can deny entry to officials it deems responsible for the continuing detention of Sen. Leila De Lima, retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio said, as Duterte administration supporters hit the ban as an affront to Philippine sovereignty.
The prohibition, contained in Washington’s new budget law, can cover the likes of President Rodrigo Duterte and other top government officials behind the supposedly bogus drug charges used only to detain his critic De Lima since 2017.
“That's the right of every state so if the US Congress, for whatever reason, decides to bar certain individuals or aliens from entering their country, that's their right. Nobody can complain,” Carpio told ABS-CBN News.
“We can also bar anyone who is not a Filipino from entering our country and nobody can complain. So that's the principle in international law.”
It remains to be seen how the move by the US Congress would affect relations with Manila, which have been tested under Duterte, who rejected international criticism of human rights violation under his drug war.
“It depends on how the president takes it. It depends upon Duterte if he's going to make a big deal out of it,” Jose Cuisia Jr., former Philippine ambassador to Washington, told ABS-CBN News.
A more serious concern, he said, would be the possibility of the US withholding aid to the Philippines if the Duterte administration failed to act on human rights violations, a major consideration in many of these assistance packages.
Duterte earlier rejected aid from 18 countries that backed a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution seeking to investigate his bloody drug war.
“If the US legislators feel that the government, despite their bringing this to their attention, the government does not do anything, they could escalate and they could in fact call for the suspension of aid,” Cuisia said warning that the Philippines’ image had been “tarnished.”
The US entry ban put Philippine government officials in the company of those from Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia over specific human rights violations.
Under the new appropriations law, the US secretary of state can bar entry to Philippine government officials involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima, but based on “credible information.”
De Lima later came out with a list of such officials led by Duterte.
It included Malacañang spokesman Salvador Panelo, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, and Solicitor General Jose Calida.
Also on De Lima’s list were chief public attorney Persida Acosta, former congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, and social media propagandists Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot, RJ Nieto (“Thinking Pinoy”).
Cuisia said the US government had a right to express concern on De Lima’s case "if they believe that human rights have been violated."