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What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war

Lawmakers in the United States have started taking action to sanction Philippine officials linked to human rights violations under the Duterte administration and the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

In particular, US Senators have proposed legislation that sets in motion processes for imposing travel restriction and financial sanctions on Philippine officials found to have been involved in De Lima's imprisonment and extrajudicial killings seen under President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

The proposed sanctions were included in a resolution adopted by the US Senate committee on foreign relations last December 11 and in an separate amendment to the US government's proposed budget for 2020.

Here's what we know so far from the movement of these pieces of legislation:

What are the sanctions and how were they proposed? There are currently two separate measures through which sanctions against Philippine officials linked to killing in the drug war and De Lima's detention are being proposed.

The first of these is an amendment in the 2020 state and foreign operations appropriations bill tackled by the US Senate appropriations committee. The amendment proposes denying entry to those involved in the detention De Lima. It was included in the bill's general provisions, which the Senate appropriations committee approved last September.

Specifically, the section "Prohibition on Entry" said the US Secretary of State "shall apply subsection (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 provision calls for the same action against officials of the Egyptian government for the "wrongful detention" of an American citizen and government officials of Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia over "wrongful detention of locally employed staff of a U.S. diplomatic mission or a U.S. citizen or national."

The second is US Senate resolution 142, which condemned De Lima's imprisonment and denounced arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political leaders who have "exercised their right to freedom of expression." This includes the harassment of media, particularly Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa.

The Senate resolution is most notable for invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, which is the US' law that gives its executive branch the power to impose visa and travel restrictions and financial sanctions on human rights violators anywhere in the world. (READ: Why the Global Magnitsky Act matters to the Philippines)

According to the Senate resolution, proposed Global Magnitksy sanctions cover the following parties:

  • Members of the security forces and official of the Government of the Philippines responsible for exrtajudicial killings
  • Officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of Senator De Lima

If sanctions are imposed, affected officials may be denied US visas and may have their bank accounts and assets in America frozen.

What's the status? On Monday, December 23, US President Donald Trump signed the US 2020 budget, which included the provision sanctioning Philippine officials.

With the measure enacted into law, the US Secretary of State – who, in this case is Secretary Mike Pompeo, will prohibit from entering the US, Philippine officials about whom he has "credible information [to] have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima.

Philippine officials have responded to the sanction by insisting the detention of De Lima was "lawful," citing Supreme Court decisions that upheld her the opposition senator's detention. Six SC justices, however, dissented from the ruling with former SC senior associate justice Antonio Carpio calling De Lima's "one of the grossest injustices" in recent memory.

About 3 weeks later, on Thursday, January 9, US Senators took action once more by unanimously adopting Senate Resolution 142, invoking the Global Magnitsky Act.

President Donald Trump will have 120 days to determine if Philippine officials in question were responsible for human rights violations against De Lima and victims of extrajudicial killings.

At the end of that period, Trump will need to submit either a classified or unclassified report to the chairperson and ranking member of the US Senate committee who submitted the request for him to look into the violations. The report will include information on whether Trump "imposed or intends to impose sanctions with respect to the person."

Who proposed the sanctions? US Senators Richard Durbin (Illinois) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) had pushed for the proposed amendment to the 2020 state and foreign operations appropriations bill, which was adopted by both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, US Senate resolution 142 was authored by US Democrat Senator Edward Markey (Massachusetts) and filed with Senators Durbin, Marco Rubio (Florida), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Chris Coons (Delaware).

Why were they sought? Sanctions were proposed in line with lawmakers' urging the Philippine government to release De Lima, who has been imprisoned for over 2 years now, on drug charges she asserts were fabricated by the government.

"For over 1,000 days now, Senator De Lima has languished in prison. Her crime: standing for human rights and good governance in the Philippines...[The] passage of my resolution...demonstrates broad support for accountability in her case and with others," Markey tweeted last December 12.

The sanctions were also proposed to aid in exacting accountability for the violation of human rights of the victims of extrajudicial killings.

– Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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