MANILA -- (3rd UPDATE) US Sen. Patrick Leahy on Sunday told the Philippine government to release detained Sen. Leila de Lima and provide her a fair and public trial instead of "irrationally threatening" to deny visas to Americans.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday barred Leahy and his colleague Sen. Dick Durbin after seeking to ban Filipino officials involved in what they called the "wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima, a staunch administration critic.
Should the US push through with the ban on Filipino officials over De Lima's case, Malacañang said Americans planning to visit the Philippines would be required to secure a visa.
Aside from De Lima, Leahy also expressed support for Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who is facing libel and tax-related charges along with her company.
"I have always stood up for the right of journalists to report the news in the United States and around the world and no one can force me to stop standing up for their rights," he said.
Leahy and Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo were earlier involved in a verbal tussle over the ban, which the latter criticized as an attempt to interfere with Manila's domestic affairs.
Panelo remains unfazed over the ban, which he said would only be enforced when "certain conditions imposed by the US law are met."
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.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in a statement, said the detained senator's indictment was upheld by the country's top court and that she has been "freely exercising all the rights of an accused in a fair and public trial."
"I wish Sen. Leahy and his four other colleagues in the US senate know that much of our constitutional law and rules on criminal procedure had their origin in US law," he said.
"They also ought to know that Sen. De Lima can only be released upon an acquittal, and not at any time upon pressure exerted by foreign politicians who do not represent the People of the Philippines."
Guevarra also invited Leahy's staff to come "over and pore over evidence" in De Lima's case, saying that it was "proceeding at a normal pace."
"We will allow the legal staff of these senators to come and authorize them to go over the records and transcripts of the cases and observe the hearings, subject to reasonable regulations, so that they may enlighten their bosses," he said.