Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered immigration officials on Friday to block the entry of two U.S. senators who pushed for a ban on Filipino officials involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, a leading critic of Manila’s deadly anti-narcotics campaign.
During a news conference in Manila, presidential spokesman Salvador Panel also threatened to require U.S. citizens to secure Philippine visas if Washington enforces its sanctions against authorities behind De Lima’s incarceration.
“The President is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy … entry to the Philippines,” Panelo said, as he described the American legislators as “imperious, uninformed and gullible.”
Durbin and Leahy co-sponsored a provision included in the 2020 U.S. budget that would prohibit the entry into the United States of Filipinos involved in De Lima’s detention.
Panelo accused the two U.S. lawmakers of wading into domestic affairs of the Philippines when they introduced the sanctions.
“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,” he said.
Manila allows American citizens to enter the Philippines and stay for up to 30 days for purposes of tourism without a visa if they present a valid U.S. passport and a return ticket, according to the State Department.
“We will not sit idly if they [the Americans] continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign state,” Panelo said, as he underscored that the new immigration policy requiring visas will include Filipinos who have become naturalized U.S. citizens, regardless of the purpose of their visits.
In 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were more than four million Filipinos in the United States, the Philippines’ biggest defense ally.
De Lima, a former human rights commissioner, has been in jail during the past two years. She has accused Duterte and several of his officials of orchestrating charges that she profited from the drug trade and used tainted money to fund her senatorial campaign.
Official police statistics show almost 7,000 suspected addicts and dealers have been killed during the past three years in what authorities had described as gunfights during legitimate anti-narcotics operations. Human rights organizations have estimated thousands more were killed.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the ban on the two American lawmakers was effective immediately, while the visa restrictions on Americans will depend on how Washington will enforce its sanctions against Filipino officials.
“It appears, therefore, that the president’s countermove hinges on the actual implementation of the U.S. travel ban against certain Filipino individuals,” Guevarra said.