Philippine officials on Monday rejected a provision included in a recently passed 2020 U.S. budget that prohibits the entry into the United States of authorities involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, a leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday signed into law the 2020 State and Foreign Operations Funding Bill, which requires the State Department to block the entry of Filipinos involved in the detention of De Lima, who has been languishing in jail for more than two years.
“Look at the implications of that law, if our officials followed it and freed de Lima in exchange for a visa, our judicial system will fall,” House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a former foreign affairs secretary, told reporters.
Cayetano accused the U.S. government of “weaponizing human rights,” even as he invited U.S. legislators to visit the country and determine the rights situation in the Southeast Asian nation.
“They have little information about the Philippines,” he said, “so they assume that our judicial system is not fair.”
De Lima, a former human rights commissioner, is under detention while awaiting trial on charges that she received money from drug lords to fund her senatorial campaign. But De Lima has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying they were fabricated by Duterte’s government to stop her from criticizing the drug war.
“We’re not bothered by it,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement, referring to the provisions in the U.S. budget.
“First, that’s their process. We cannot intrude in the same way we react when they intrude in our process,” Panelo said.
Panelo argued that before any Philippine official is denied entry into the United States, it is required by American law that a “credible information” against them is established. He insisted that de Lima was being accorded due process, and that her jailing went through the proper judicial steps.
The U.S. law includes an amendment that was earlier proposed by Sens. Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy, who have been at the forefront of calls to free the Filipina legislator.
In a handwritten statement from jail, De Lima said the law was the most “wonderful Christmas blessing” she had received while in jail.
“This latest development signals the fact that impunity cannot last and that one way or another, justice will catch up with those who choose to do injustice to others,” De Lima said.
Thousands of suspected drug dealers and addicts have been brutally killed since Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016. But many of those slain were allegedly summarily executed, including a 17-year-old teenager who was accosted by police and killed at a pigsty.
"Systematic and widespread violation of human rights, like what we experience under the Duterte regime, is not an exercise of sovereignty or independence. It is a crime against humanity that must be condemned and punished with sanctions by the community of nations, as it is now being punished by the U.S. Congress,” De Lima said.
According to de Lima, Trump's signature “signifies a solid recognition by the U.S. government that I am a clear victim of political persecution.”
De Lima also accused Duterte of taking “a direct hand” in controlling detained inmates in testifying against her. The U.S. State Department has yet to release a list of Philippines officials who will be blocked from entering the United States.
But De Lima had earlier named several officials allegedly behind her arrest and imprisonment, including Panelo, Solicitor General Jose Calida and former Presidential Communications Operations Office official Mocha Uson.
She also mentioned pro-Duterte bloggers Sass Rogando Sasot and RJ Nieto, former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office board member Sandra Cam, Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Dante Jimenez and Congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas.,
Official police statistics show almost 7,000 suspected addicts and dealers have been killed during the past three years in what authorities had described as gunfights during legitimate anti-narcotics operations. Human rights organizations have estimated thousands more were killed.