President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration to refuse entry to two American senators who sought to ban in the United States those who were involved in what they called the “wrongful imprisonment” of Senator Leila de Lima, Malacañang announced Friday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo also announced that the government would require all American citizens to secure a visa before entering the country if the US would enforce the ban on Philippine officials.
“The President is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy, the imperious, uninformed and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provision in the US 2020 Budget, entry to the Philippines,” Panelo said in a press briefing.
“Should a ban from entry into US territory be enforced against Philippine officials involved in—or by reason of—Senator De Lima’s lawful imprisonment, this government will require all Americans intending to come to the Philippines to apply and secure a visa before they can enter Philippine territory,” Panelo added.
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump signed his government’s $1.4-trillion budget for 2020 which contains the provision of “Prohibition on Entry.”
Duterte has no ill feelings towards Trump, Panelo said but added that the President will formally decline the US leader’s standing invitation to visit Washington.
The US State Department has yet to release a list of Philippine officials who will be banned from entering the US.
Panelo said the visa requirement includes dual citizens or Filipinos who are now US citizens, regardless of the purpose of the visit.
“All Americans, if you are US citizen then you are an American,” he said.
The Palace official also insisted that De Lima was not wrongfully detained.
“The case of Senator De Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution. In fact, it is already being heard by our courts. The Supreme Court, the highest court of our land, has affirmed the incarceration of Senator De Lima as valid and lawful,” he said.
De Lima, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration, has been detained since February 2017 and repeatedly denied her alleged links to the illegal drug trade when she was still Justice secretary. She called the allegations against her as “political persecution.”
Panelo said other countries cannot dictate upon the local officials, judges, and justices the method by which the government enforces or interprets laws, noting that the Philippines is an independent and sovereign state.
He also said the President considered the possible repercussions of this order, particularly in the Philippine tourism.
“When the President makes a decision, all circumstances are factored in,” Panelo said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Friday said the ban against Durban and Leahy would be immediately carried out by the Bureau of Immigration.
“The DOJ, which will implement the ban through the BI, has not received a formal order from the President,” Guevarra added.
De Lima, meanwhile, laughed off the Duterte administration’s claim that she was “accorded procedural due process” in the prosecution of her drug charges.
“Salvador Panelo, the master of disinformation, is calling out critics for allegedly misleading US senators regarding my case? This is hilarious,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Those who are genuinely on the side of truth and justice can never be hoodwinked into believing that we have a fair justice system and a strong vibrant democracy,” she said.