Palace confirms: US travel ban on PH officials validated

Palace confirms: US travel ban on PH officials validated
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo Photo From Presidential Communications Operations Office

By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

The United States’ (US) entry ban imposed on Philippine officials responsible for the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima is validated, Malacañang said on Sunday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel “Babes” Romualdez has confirmed that there is a law that bars de Lima’s jailers from setting foot on the American soil.

“When I was talking to (Philippine Ambassador to US) Babes Romualdez, sabi niya, tsinek daw nila ‘yung batas, meron nga daw. Totoo ‘yung ban (he said, they checked the law and it exists. The ban is true),” the Palace official said in an interview over dzIQ.

Panelo’s remarks came after political blogger RJ Nieto, in his Dec. 28 column published on Manila Bulletin, claimed that the supposed US entry ban against Philippine officials purportedly behind De Lima’s detention was “nowhere to be found in the final version” of the US 2020 budget signed by American President Donald Trump.

De Lima, in a statement issued on Saturday, slammed Nieto for merely “looking at one document and, thereafter, promptly concluding that it does not contain the provision banning my persecutors from entry into the US.”

De Lima said the US travel ban remains in force, “unless specifically negated.”

The “Prohibition on Entry” section included in the US 2020 budget allows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “apply sub-section (c) to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary 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 (c) referred to is the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of the United States that authorizes the US to sanction foreign government officials deemed as violators of human rights.

De Lima has been detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 following her supposed involvement in the rampant narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary when she was still justice secretary.

The travel ban imposed on de Lima’s alleged jailers was part of the amendments to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Section of the budget program introduced by US Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy days before the signing of the document last week.

Panelo said Romualdez had informed him that the travel ban was only enforceable, “when certain conditions imposed by the US law are met.”

Iba ang enforcement. Merong colatilla ‘yun (The enforcement is another case. There’s a colatilla there). They cannot just ban anybody there,” the Palace official said.

“Sinasabi doon eh (It says there that) if the Secretary of State received credible information that it’s a wrongful detention. Unang-una (First and foremost), it’s not a wrongful detention. So paano ka magkakaroon ng credible information kung iyan ang premise mo (So how can you get credible information if that’s your premise)?” he added.

Travel ban won’t affect PH-US ties 

The travel ban prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to block the entry of Durbin and Leahy to the Philippines.

Duterte also sternly warned to impose a visa application for all US citizens who wish to visit the Philippines in case US denies entry to Filipino officials linked to de Lima’s arrest.

Panelo was confident that the latest developments would not have an adverse impact on Manila’s ties with the Washington.

“Wala namang epekto iyan. Basta ayaw lang natin, pinapakialaman ‘yung proseso natin (It has no effect. What we do not want is interference in our processes),” he said, when asked if the travel ban could affect the two countries’ relations.

Panelo also noted that so far, there was no formal communication from the US with regard to the order barring de Lima’s jailers from entering the US.

He said Duterte’s order against the two US senators was still in effect, while the possibility of requiring US citizens to apply for a Philippine visa was still being considered.

“What’s important to us if they ban any government official, then yung sinabi kong we will require yung pag-apply ng visa stands at ‘yung pag-ban sa dalawang senador (then the possible order to require them to apply for visa stands and the ban order against two senators remains enforced),” Panelo said. 

(First published in PNA)

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