Duterte unbothered by US ban on de Lima jailers

President Rodrigo Duterte is unflustered by the United States’ (US) move to deny entry to Philippine officials responsible for the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, Malacañang said Thursday.

The President merely brushed aside the travel ban imposed against those who have a hand in de Lima’s arrest, since he has no interest to go to the US, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a press conference.

“Kung ayaw niya (Duterte) nga pumunta (If he doesn’t want to go there), how can he be worried?” the Palace official said, when asked about the President’s reaction to the latest act made by the US.

Government officials in the Philippines who are involved in the imprisonment of De Lima are now banned from entering Washington, according to a provision in the USD1.4-trillion US budget for 2020 signed by US President Donald Trump.

The ban was part of the amendments to the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Section of the budget program included by US Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy days prior to the signing of the document last week.

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The section titled “Prohibition on Entry” provides that the US Secretary of State “shall apply sub-section (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 are arrested in the Philippines in 2017.”

De Lima has been in detention at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City since February 2017 due to her supposed involvement in illicit drug trade inside the national penitentiary during her stint as justice secretary.

Panelo stressed that the US travel ban seemed to contradict the standing invitation for Duterte to visit Washington.

“Exactly, that is a contradiction. There is a standing invitation,” he said.

Panelo, nevertheless, noted that the Philippine government would not contest the US’ decision.

“In the first place we are not asking for reconsideration. My statement is very clear. We cannot intrude into the process of a sovereign state, in the same way that they cannot intrude into ours,” Panelo said.

‘Not a wrongful detention’

On Christmas Day, de Lima hoped that she will be freed soon, following the move to ban her accusers from setting foot in the US.

Panelo, however, said de Lima’s fate would be up to the local court hearing her case.

Panelo added that contrary to the US' claim, de Lima’s arrest was “not a wrongful detention.”

“As we have already explained, it’s not a wrongful detention,” the Palace official said. “That’s for the court to decide, not for us… You must remember that it’s the court that will determine whether or not a person can be released whether on bail or one can be released because he or she has been acquitted. It’s always the courts.”

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