‘Balikbayan’ from US spared from planned PH visa requirement
“Balikbayan” Filipinos from the United States will not be affected by President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to impose visa requirements on Americans traveling to the Philippines in retaliation for the US ban of Filipino officials involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.
Malacañang issued the clarification on Wednesday after an earlier announcement that even Filipino-Americans would be required visas should the United States actually ban any Filipino official on account of De Lima’s detention.
The Palace announced the planned tit for tat after the US ban became law on Dec. 20, when US President Donald Trump signed the $4.7-trillion federal budget, which carried a provision imposing the ban on human rights abusers.
United States Senators Patrick Leahy (Democrat, from Vermont) and Richard Durbin (Democrat, Illinois) wrote the provision, a sanction on the Duterte administration for silencing critics of its brutal war on drugs under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
The criticisms of Leahy and Durbin are “misplaced,” according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who also announced that the two Democrats would be barred from the Philippines.
Later, the Palace escalated the ban to include all Americans should the United States proceed with the sanction on Duterte officials behind De Lima’s detention on drug charges, which she had described as retaliation for her investigation of alleged extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s drug war.
Panelo said Mr. Duterte would issue an executive order requiring American citizens, “including Filipino-Americans,” to get visas for travel to the Philippines.
On Wednesday, however, Panelo issued a statement clarifying that Filipinos living in the United States and visiting the Philippines as balikbayan will not be affected by the administration’s action.
Panelo defended the visa requirement for foreigners as “an exercise of a sovereign right and is not an insult to any particular community.”
Filipinos required US visas
He noted that the US government has long been requiring Filipinos to have US visas to be able to travel to the United States.
“As the community of nation believes in, ‘diplomacy is equality,’” Panelo added.
Responding to Malacañang’s threat last week, Durbin said the “Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of these Filipino-Americans and so many others who travel between our nations, and instead release Senator De Lima or [give her] a quick and credible trial.”
Leahy prodded the administration to “either release Senator De Lima immediately or provide her the fair, public trial she is entitled to.”
Panelo said the remarks of the two American lawmakers were coming from “either absolute ignorance or shameful bias.”
“The call of these foreign officials to release Sen. Leila de Lima, who is presently facing charges before an independent Philippine court, is a brazen interference into our sovereignty,” he said.
“Their alternative demand to provide [her] a fair, speedy and credible trial is totally misplaced because precisely, that is being given her by the hearing court as required by the Constitution,” he said.
‘Unfair publicity stunts’
“If any party feels that such constitutional guarantee is not being observed, then [that] party should avail [itself] of appropriate remedial measures under Philippine law instead of resorting to unfair publicity stunts,” he said.
Panelo said all Filipinos were “impleaded” in De Lima’s case “by reason of her wrongful acts.”
“Hence, any undue persuasion that tramples upon our judicial processes or puts any form of tension on the officers of our courts relative thereto must be condemned accordingly by all citizens of this state,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.