DOJ chief Guevarra shocked, offended by U.S. ban on De Lima accusers

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Monday, December 23, said he was “shockingly disappointed” over a provision in the US budget law that will prohibit the entry to the United States of Philippine government officials identified to have been involved in the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima. 

In a statement, Guevarra said that the issue is now beyond the prosecution of De Lima and that he feels offended.

“This involves issues of sovereignty and non-interference among co-equal nations,” he said. 

"I am shocked that a foreign government can unduly influence or interfere with another country's legal and judicial processes by threats of visa cancellations and asset confiscation. I thought the US wants everyone to observe due process?" Guevarra added.

US President Donald Trump on Friday, December 20, signed into law the 2020 budget which included a provision that denies entry to those involved in the detention of De Lima.  

The provision tasks US Secretary of States Mike Pompeo to prohibit the entry to the US of Philippine officials whom he has “credible information [to] have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima. 

'I don't give a damn'

De Lima, one of Duterte’s staunchest critics, has been in jail since February 2017 for allegedly receiving money from drug convicts inside Bilibid in exchange for their protection.

“As for me, I don’t give a damn s___ if I’m included in the US list,” Guevarra said. “I’m not the one who has to answer to my conscience.”

The US State Department has yet to release a list of Philippine officials who will be banned. 

De Lima, in October 2019, identified personalities involved in her imprisonment, including President Rodrigo Duterte, members of the Cabinet, and legislators, together with pro-Duterte bloggers.

'That's easy to say'

In a statement on Tuesday, December 24, De Lima said Guevarra also "discarded the rule of law" by standing firm on the prosecution strategy to make convicts witnesses in her trial.

De Lima has brought this matter up with the Court of Appeals (CA), saying the Witness Protection Program (WPP) law prohibits people convicted of moral turpitude from becoming government witnesses.

“Like his predecessor, this Secretary of Justice has discarded rule of law when he allowed criminal convicts to stand as state witnesses against me, in violation of the law; when he allowed a null and void information to survive despite its (both the original and amended Information) failure to charge an offense, let alone a drug-related offense, against me," said De Lima.

This would be De Lima's strongest words yet against Guevarra. The opposition has been generally courteous towards him, finding in the justice secretary an ally on a few issues, like the stripping of state protection for Janet Lim Napoles.

 De Lima chided Guevarra for telling her to just wait for the trial to finish.

"That is easy to say for someone not in prison, and who is responsible for the continuation of injustice that is my incarceration based on fabricated charges,” De Lima said. – With reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com