Robredo says US has right to bar PH officials behind De Lima’s detention

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Vice President Leni Robredo says the US has the right to bar Philippine officials behind opposition senator Leila de Lima’s detention from entering its territory. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 29) — Vice President Leni Robredo said the United States has the right to bar Philippine officials behind opposition senator Leila de Lima’s detention from entering its territory.

Karapatan nila iyon. Pareho din noong karapatan ng China na i-prevent iyong officials natin na papasok,” Robredo said Sunday on her radio program. “Puwedeng hindi tayo sang-ayon pero hindi siguro natin maipagkakaila na karapatan nila iyon bilang isang bansa.

[Translation: It’s their right. It’s just like the right of China to prevent our officials from entering. We can disagree, but we cannot deny that it’s their right as a country.]

Robredo said the Philippines cannot question the US proposal, in the same manner that Washington should not interfere in Manila’s decisions.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales were earlier barred from entering Hong Kong. Del Rosario and Morales lodged a complaint against Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials before the International Criminal Court over the East Asian giant’s incursions in Philippine waters.

Robredo said that the proposal to ban some Philippine officials, inserted into the US 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill approved Friday by the US Senate Appropriations committee, shows that the Western superpower is serious about human rights.

The proposal has been met with disapproval by Malacañang and some lawmakers, saying this is an affront to Philippine sovereignty.

However, Robredo pointed out that the Philippines is still free to do whatever it wants.

“Choice naman natin iyong kung magpapa-pressure tayo o hindi, ‘di ba. Kahit pa anong gawin noong nasa labas na i-pressure tayo, nasa sa atin kung magpapa-pressure tayo,” she said.

[Translation: It’s our choice if we allow ourselves to be pressured or not, right? Whatever outsiders do to pressure us, it is still up to us if we will be pressured.]

Backlash?

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra warned that US Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the proponents of the proposal, may face backlash in the US because of the move to ban Philippine officials involved in De Lima’s detention.

“They have to deal with the reaction of their own constituencies and the judgment of a whole thinking community of democratic nations,” Guevarra said in a text message on Sunday.

He also downplayed the proposal, doubting that the entire US Congress will back the measure. He said majority of US lawmakers "exert great efforts to acquire full and unbiased information before opening their mouths, who practice what they preach about due process and the rule of law, and most especially respect the independence of a co-equal sovereign nation.”

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo also hit Leahy, saying that the US senator is “ignorant” of Philippine laws and its justice system.

“Hence in citing abuse of Philippine officials without an iota of proof he was speaking not only of blissful ignorance but unscented abuse,” Panelo said in a statement on Sunday.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, meanwhile, suggested that the Philippines also bans US officials seeking the impeachment of US President Donald Trump, who supposedly used $400 million in military aid to force Ukraine to investigate former US Vice President Joe Biden, his potential foe in the 2020 presidential polls.

A staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug war, De Lima has been detained since 2017 for allegedly abetting illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary during her term as Justice Secretary under the previous administration. She has maintained her innocence and accused the government of fabricating the cases against her.

CNN Philippines’ Ina Andolong and Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.