PHL threatens to change visa rule for US citizens

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Salvador S. Panelo

THE PHILIPPINE government on Friday announced it will remove the visa-on-arrival privilege for American citizens if their government fully enforces the provision banning the entry to the United States of Filipino officials supposedly involved in the detainment of Senator Leila M. De Lima.

In a briefing on Friday, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said Philippine authorities will take this action if the US Secretary of State bans local officials from travelling to the US should there be “credible information” that they are linked to Ms. De Lima’s “unlawful” incarceration since 2017.

This provision was included in the recently signed US National Budget for 2020.

“If they will enforce this provision in the US budget, then we will be compelled to require all Americans entering into this country to secure a visa before they can be allowed entry,” Mr. Panelo said.

He added that this planned action has been fully thought out. “When the President makes a decision, all circumstances are factored in.”

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Gueverra, for his part, said, “The requirement to obtain Philippine visas is subject to a suspensive condition.”

“In general, unless a date of effectivity has been expressly specified, a presidential order is supposed to take effect immediately. Note however, that the President reportedly said, ‘if the US enforces its travel ban against Philippine government officials who wrongfully detained Senator De Lima.’ It appears therefore that the president’s countermove hinges on the actual implementation of the US travel ban against certain filipino individuals,” he said in a message to reporters on Friday.

Ms. De Lima, who has denied the drug-related charges against her, said last week that Mr. Duterte and Mr. Panelo are among those responsible for her incarceration.

Mr. Panelo reiterated that the arrest of Ms. De Lima “is not one of persecution but of prosecution,” and that it is “valid and lawful” under the Philippine judicial system.

Mr. Panelo also announced that the President “is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to deny US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy, the imperious, uninformed and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provision in the US 2020 Budget, entry to the Philippines.”

Mr. Guevarra said the ban is”effective immediately.”

The BI is an attached agency of the Department of Justice.

“The travel ban on the two US senators is effective immediately, according to a written statement from the office of the presidential spokesperson,” Mr. Guevarra said. — Gillian M. Cortez