Ex-lawmaker barred from US trip
A former congresswoman bound for a human rights convention in Washington, DC, was barred by an airline from leaving the Philippines last July 9, allegedly on instructions from the United States government.
In a press conference on Wednesday morning, former Gabriela Women’s partylist representative Liza Maza came out swinging against Korean Air, saying they violated her rights when airline staff suddenly stopped her from boarding her 12:20 p.m. flight for New York.
From New York, Maza would have taken a connecting flight to Washington, Maza was on her way to the International People’s Tribunal against the Aquino administration and the United States government, scheduled from July 16 to 18 in Washington, DC. At the symbolic tribunal, Maza was to testify against the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Since she was barred from the flight, Maza said she could no longer be able to personally attend the tribunal.
Maza recounted that last July 9, she was already checked in and cleared by immigration officers for Korean Air flight 622 at the NAIA Terminal 1. But 35 minutes before the boarding time, airline staff informed her that she was not allowed to board the plane, in accordance with an e-mail they received from the US Customs and Border Protection Agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
Maza’s companion, doctor Efleda Bautista, however, was allowed to go on.
When Maza demanded for a copy of the e-mail, the Korean Air staff, led by ground supervisor Luigi Luis Santos, repeatedly refused, saying it was “not for dissemination to a third party.” She was only advised to head to the United States embassy for “evaluation.”
Maza, whose US visa is valid until 2018, and whose last trip to the United States was in 2013, called the “arbitrary” prohibition a violation of her “right to free movement, association, and speech.”
“They’re trying to prevent me from exposing the public outcry against the EDCA and VFA. This incident [will have] a chilling effect on activists for peace, and on people asserting their right to speak up against unfair agreements and exploitation by foreign powers,” she said, in Filipino.
“I am bothered that the United States has a right to exert policies even outside of its borders. This is a clear violation of national sovereignty,” Maza added.
Maza’s legal counsel, Jonjon Montemayor, said the legal implication of what happened to Maza was that “rights could be curtailed arbitrarily” even for ordinary people. “There’s no mechanism to know the complaint against you, no mechanism to appeal the information,” Montemayor said.
Montemayor said they were studying the “option” of filing legal complaints against Korean Air or any parties deemed responsible for the incident. So far, Maza has not coordinated with the US Embassy on what happened. “The burden to explain is on the US,” Maza said.
Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said they were asking President Aquino, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration, and the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the case.
Palabay considered the barring of Maza as “sabotage” to the IPT, although out of the 34 Filipinos attending the IPT, only Maza has been barred thus far. Palabay also said some witnesses would give their testimonies over video chat.
The tribunal is convened by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), the United States-based National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), and think-tank IBON International.
Earlier, the tribunal’s clerk of court, Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said the people’s tribunal would act just like a court, but one convened “by the people instead of the state.”
Olalia said the international tribunal would be composed of three judges, three members of the jury, and a prosecution team. Former United States Congresswoman and peace advocate Cynthia McKinney
would be among the jurors who would hear live testimonies of witnesses from the Philippines, the IPT secretariat said in an earlier statement.
The IPT convenors, in their statement, explained the tribunal was only “symbolic” and was not “judicially binding.” But the convenors insist the tribunal would nevertheless be “significant.”
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