President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to end visa-free travel into the Philippines for American citizens, and has ordered the Immigration Bureau to bar the entry of two “imperious” U.S. senators who had previously proposed a travel ban on Filipino officials linked to the detainment of staunch Duterte critic Senator Leila De Lima.
The United States’ 2020 budget, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, contains a provision which allows the U.S. Secretary of State to bar foreign government officials from entering the U.S. if he has “credible information” of their involvement in the “wrongful imprisonment” of Senator De Lima, along with a handful of other politically sensitive prisoners around the world. The provision had been proposed by Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy.
“The President is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny U.S. 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,” Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press conference at Malacañang today.
The names of those theoretically barred from entering the U.S. have yet to be made public, but that hasn’t stopped the Duterte administration from threatening far broader-reaching measures in retaliation, with Panelo saying that if the U.S. government pushed through with the ban, the Philippines would respond by requiring every American planning to visit the country to secure a visa prior to arrival.
“Should a ban from entry into U.S. 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 said.
If the government went ahead with the measure, it would affect the hundreds of thousands of American tourists who travel to the country each year. According to government figures, the number of American tourists visiting the Philippines exceeded one million in 2018, making the United States the country’s third-largest source of tourists.
Panelo, meanwhile, went on to insist that De Lima’s case is not one of “persecution, but of prosecution,” adding that her case is being heard by the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court.
“No other state can dictate upon our officials, judges, and justices the method upon which we enforce or interpret our laws,” Panelo said. “We will not sit idly if they continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign estate.”
Separately, a U.S. Senate resolution also passed the foreign relations committee early this month calling for the release of De Lima, who has been detained since 2017 over accusations of extortion based on less-than-credible evidence. She has yet to be convicted of the charges, despite her lengthy imprisonment.
De Lima was arrested shortly after opening a Senate investigation into President Duterte’s bloody drug war.
The U.S. measures are just the latest in a steady drumbeat of calls for the Senator’s release from various political figures and organizations, both here and abroad. The outcry over her detention has angered Duterte enough that last month, he even offered to leak a copy of a purported sex tape that he claimed featured his political opponent.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Senate Resolution 142 had passed the Senate in December. In fact, it cleared the Committee on Foreign Relations in December, and was passed by the Senate in January. Coconuts Manila apologizes for any confusion caused.