Trump OKs budget, includes U.S. ban on De Lima accusers

Sofia Tomacruz

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Trump OKs budget, includes U.S. ban on De Lima accusers
(3rd UPDATE) The ban takes effect after US President Donald Trump signs into law the 2020 budget with a provision to deny entry to those involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – United States President Donald Trump approved the US 2020 budget that includes a provision denying entry to those involved in the detention of Philippine opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

The provision, which was an amendment in the 2020 State and foreign operations appropriations bill, was part of the US government’s 2020 budget signed into law by Trump Friday, December 20.

The prohibition on entry tasks the US Secretary of State – who, in this case is Secretary Mike Pompeo – to prohibit from entering the US, Philippine officials about whom he has “credible information [to] have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima. (READ: What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war)

What the provision says. The US Senate’s rare move to take action was included in the US State Department budget’s general provisions. Specifically, the section “Prohibition on Entry” says 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 and government officials of Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia over “wrongful detention” of American citizens or locally employed staff of a US diplomatic mission. 

Who will be affected? The US State Department has yet to release a list of Philippine officials who will be banned from entering the US.

Despite this, De Lima earlier identified several Philippine officials whom she believed to be involved in her imprisonment. The individuals were listed in a press release shared with media last October 2019.

On top of De Lima’s list is President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who, she said, “took a direct hand in controlling the inmates-witnesses when he ordered their transfer from Bilibid to a military facility.”

Along with Duterte were Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, Duterte supporters and online bloggers Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot, and RJ Nieto who De Lima claimed were part of a “a daily public media demolition.”

Panelo, De Lima said, was also involved as Duterte’s legal counsel as he “failed to advise the President that violating her human rights and depriving her of her freedom are “abuses offensive to justice and humanity.”

Congress, too. Meanwhile, De Lima named lawmakers in the House of Representatives who were part of a probe where “criminal convicts were induced to testify…in exchange for prison privileges and immunity, if not presidential pardon.”

These lawmakers were former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Public Attorney Office Chief Persida Acosta, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, and Congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas.

Taking action. The prohibition takes effect after US Senators Richard Durbin (Illinois) and Patrick Leahy (Vermont) pushed for the proposed amendment to be included in the 2020 state and foreign operations appropriations bill.

The proposed amendment was then approved by the Senate appropriations committee and House of Representatives and was included in the final 2020 appropriations bill.

The sanction is the first of two measures proposed by US Senators who have urged the Philippine government to release De Lima. Imprisoned for over two years now, De Lima has been detained on drug charges she asserts were fabricated by the government. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.