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'Brazen' intrusion: PH slams proposed U.S. travel ban on officials in De Lima detention

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippine government on Friday, September 27, deplored the decision of a United States Senate panel to approve the proposed travel ban on Filipino government officials involved in the detention of Duterte critic Senator Leila de Lima.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo slammed the move as "brazen" intrusion into Philippine sovereignty, a standard response of the Duterte administraton to all foreign criticism of its policies.

"The Palace considers such undertaking as a brazen attempt to intrude into our country’s domestic legal processes given that the subject cases against the detained senator are presently being heard by our local courts," said Panelo on Friday, September 27 in a statement.

"It seeks to place pressure upon our independent institutions thereby effectively interfering with our nation’s sovereignty," he added.

The move to ban relevant government officials from entering the US was introduced by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois as an amendment to the 2020 state and foreign operations appropriations bill. The US Senate appropriations committee approved this on Friday, according to a tweet from Durbin.

The American legislator said the amendment seeks to "prohibit entry to any Philippine Government Officials involved in the politically motivated imprisonment" of De Lima.

Malacañang saw the proposed ban as an "insult" to Philippine government officials and a form of "disrespect to our people's clamor for law and order."

"It treats our country as an inferior state unqualified to run its own affairs. All sensible Filipinos, regardless of their political or social association, should feel affronted and disrespected by this insulting and offensive act," said Duterte's spokesman.

No action?

Yet Panelo said the Philippine government will not pursue any other action against the Senate panel decision, other than the response he gave.

"We shall respect their democratic processes, be these in the form of a congressional measure or an immigration policy," he said.

Duterte himself is yet to speak publicly about the travel ban.

Malacañang repeated its usual argument when faced with condemnation for De Lima's imprisonment: it denied her fate was politically-motivated.

"The fact that she belongs to the political opposition is irrelevant to her charges of illegal drug-related transgressions which she allegedly committed while she was Justice Secretary," said Panelo. 

Right before she was arrested in 2017, De Lima had been conducting Senate hearings on Duterte's involvement in death squads and extrajudicial killings.

The rise of such killings under his administration had been dramatic and were coupled with the President's own public statements encouraging the murder of suspects by police.

Duterte's public claim of De Lima's connivance with incarcerated drug lords for money had preceded the launching of criminal investigations which led to her arrest and imprisonment.

Lawmakers weigh in

House Minority Leader Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr echoed Malacañang’s position, calling the approved amendment “a slap on the face of Philippine sovereignty.”

“Whatever one’s position on the detention of Senator De Lima, one cannot countenance what is a blatant attempt to interfere in our legal processes and meddle in our affairs,” said the Manila 6th District Representaative.

“This is highly irregular, especially because the trial is ongoing and the judges are still hearing the case. These US senators are essentially telling the judges that if they find Senator De Lima guilty, they will be barred from entering the United States,” he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, however, said the move should not be seen as interference as it address human rights violations. "Human beings everywhere – regardless of ethnicity, nationality, class, religion, or gender – must speak out against mass murder," he said in a statement.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, for his part, noted that while "admission into a country is a matter of privilege, not a right" such a measure was not only "uncalled for but a clear encroachment of the Philippines' judicial system."  –


Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at