Why visa ban on De Lima’s jailers in US budget law

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 30 2019 04:24 PM

MANILA—A provision barring entry to Philippine officials behind the “wrongful imprisonment” of Sen. Leila De Lima can easily get lost in the United States’ voluminous spending law worth $1.4 trillion for next year, prompting her critics to believe that the prohibition was “fake news.”

But tracing the prohibition requires “more due diligence” than just scrutinizing the final budget bill signed into law by US President Donald Trump last Dec. 20, said De Lima, whose 2-year detention has been condemned by several American lawmakers.

The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act 2020 contains an explanatory statement, which “shall have the same effect with respect to the allocation of funds and implementation of divisions A through H of this Act as if it were a joint explanatory statement of a committee of conference.”

This section leads to Division G, which directs federal agencies to “comply with directives, reporting requirements, and instructions” contained in reports by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Senate report clearly includes a prohibition on entry, which states that the secretary of state shall apply “subsection (c) to foreign government officials about whom (he) has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of… Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017.”

The subsection refers to the Global Magnitsky Act, a groundbreaking law allowing the US government to deny visa to human right violators and corrupt officials in other countries, and freeze their assets as a form of targeted sanctions.

POWER OF THE PURSE

That the visa ban on De Lima’s jailers was included in the US budget law showed how its Congress was effectively exercising its “power of the purse,” said lawyer Gilbert Andres of the Manila-based Center for International Law.

“The Philippine government can learn from that experience,” he told ABS-CBN News.

“The US Congress is just following the principle of the power of the purse. They want the funds to be implemented in accordance with the directives of the US Congress.” 

Andres noted that the visa prohibition was mandatory on the part of the US secretary of state against Philippine officials behind the arrest and detention of De Lima, who described her drug charges as trumped up.

But even without the provision in the new budget law, he said the US government could still make use of the Global Magnitsky Act, which now has similar versions in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Latvia.


ACT OF SOVEREIGNTY

Malacañang spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier warned that the Philippine government would impose visa restrictions on American citizens should Washington implement its travel sanctions on those behind De Lima’s detention.

Andres said the Duterte administration’s response should be “calibrated” and should not affect “other people who are not really related to what happened.”

The Philippines earlier announced that the 2 US senators who introduced the De Lima provisions in the budget law would be barred from entering the country.

Andres said the travel restriction against Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin was an “act of sovereignty” by the Philippine government, similar to how the US Congress “acted in terms of sovereignty” in introducing the visa restriction provision in the budget law.

But Washington was exercising its sovereignty as well in imposing sanctions against foreigners it considers as human rights violators under the Global Magnitsky Act, said Andres.

“We have to realize that human rights is not just the exclusive domain of countries because in fact human rights now are internationalized,” he said.

“Any state can actually check on the human rights conditions of the other states. In fact, we can also do that for the US.”