Asset freeze for De Lima accusers, jailers sought in US Senate

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 2) — Lawmakers from the United States are calling on their national government to impose more sanctions against Philippine officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima — including the freezing of their assets.

US Senate Resolution No. 142, which passed the Foreign Relations panel on December 11, is already up for plenary debates this month, De Lima’s chief of staff Atty. Fhillip Sawali said Thursday. The resolution pushes for the immediate release of the senator, who was arrested in 2017 on charges of supposed links to illegal drug circulation in the New Bilibid Prison during her time as Justice Secretary.

Sabi doon, the whole gamut of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions — not just travel ban, gawin din natin [‘yung] asset-freezing... sa mga property,” Sawali told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

[Translation: It says there that the whole gamut of Global Magnitsky Act sanctions-- not just travel ban, but also the asset-freezing for their properties.]

He said he heard it will be taken up at the US Senate plenary any day this month.

"Not only should government officials, persecutors of Senator De Lima be banned from travelling to the US, but their assets located in the United States should be frozen, should be blocked,” the lawyer said of the proposed measure first introduced by US Senator Edward Markey in April.

The measure, which likewise called on the Philippine government to drop charges against journalist Maria Ressa and online news platform Rappler, was placed on the US Senate legislative calendar six days after its passage.

A counterpart "Free Leila" measure has also been filed in the US House of Representatives in March.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act allows Washington to punish foreign officials implicated in "significant corruption or gross violations of human rights" in any part of the world.

Among the sanctions that can be imposed by the US President include visa revocation, as well as the power to block all US-based property and interests in property of said foreign officials.

CNN Philippines is awaiting response to its request for further comment from the offices of Markey and US Senate Foreign Relations committee chair Jim Risch.

New, comprehensive list of accusers?

Meanwhile, Sawali said De Lima has drawn up a new and detailed list of the government officials involved in her detention — those who may be barred from entering the US due to the travel ban provision stated under the 2020 spending measure.

“She came out with a list, initial list. Kung ang tanong niyo ay nadagdagan or na-update na, mayroon pong more comprehensive, more detailed list si Senator De Lima [if you’re asking if the list has been updated, then yes, she has a more comprehensive, detailed list,]” the lawyer noted.

“It's quite long. Very meticulous po si Senator De Lima... each and every entry po doon, she saw to it na may justification [she is very meticulous... each and every entry there, she saw to it that there is justification.]”

The senator’s initial list, which came out in October, named President Rodrigo Duterte, Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Solicitor General Jose Calida, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, and blogger Mocha Uson, among others—as some of the individuals who took part in the process of her “unjust” detention.

Sawali said the new list may include more lawmakers— particularly Congressmen— who took part in the “slut-shaming” and “verbal assault” against De Lima during a 2016 hearing.

The current administration has repeatedly denied such accusations, stressing there has been no political persecution even of the government’s staunch critics.

Sawali said the new list will be sent to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has final jurisdiction over the travel ban.

EXPLAINER: How the US budget law bans Philippine officials

However, he said it would be “prudent” for the US government to seek De Lima’s recommendations, given her first-hand experience in the case.

Pero hindi lang naman ang source si Senator De Lima. Marami ring independent sources of information,” Sawali clarified.

[Translation: But Senator De Lima is not the only source of information. There are also a lot of independent sources of information.]

Official list out ‘very soon’

The 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, signed by US President Donald Trump in December, states that "the Secretary of State shall apply subsection (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 was arrested in the Philippines in 2017."

Malacañang previously said it remains unfazed by the ban, citing the need for “credible information” before the provision can be enforced by Pompeo.

READ: US ban on PH officials linked to De Lima’s detention now in Pompeo’s hands

The camp of the detained senator, however, expressed optimism that the US government would come out with its official list “very soon.”

“I wouldn't know the timeline of the State Department. But I guess very, very soon… because the State Department has a vast network of intelligence and information sources,” Sawali said.

This is a developing story.