In this photo, presidential spokesperon Salvador Panelo holds up supposed proof of journalists and pro bono lawyers conspiring against President Rodrigo Duterte.
The STAR/Alexis Romero
US grant of asylum to Filipino couple no proof of political persecution — Palace
Alexis Romero ( - December 9, 2019 - 7:05pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang on Monday denied that critics of the Duterte administration are experiencing political persecution after a Filipino couple critical of the president was granted asylum in the United States.

Last week, a San Francisco immigration judge issued decisions granting asylum to Rene Flores and his wife Joy, who had claimed that they might experience political persecution if ordered to return to the Philippines.

Ted Laguatan, the couple's lawyer, said the rulings affirmed that many American officials are already aware of what he described as the "extensive human rights violations" of President Duterte.

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The couple, who flew to the US in 2000 initially to visit relatives, participated in protests that condemned Duterte's alleged human rights violations and "mass murder policies."

The ruling spares the Flores couple from deportation proceedings and allows them to seek lawful permanent resident status.

Asked to react to the ruling, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo dismissed as "propaganda" allegations that people critical of President Rodrigo Duterte are being persecuted.

"I think the judge was made to believe that there is widespread attack against journalists and human rights activists. These are the propaganda peddled by the opposition. Apparently, because of the barrage of that kind of propaganda, people in the US believe in that," Panelo told ABS-CBN News Channel on Monday.  

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Panelo claimed the information on the alleged abuses cited by the couple to convince the judge to grant them asylum were based on unverified claims of human rights organizations.

Human rights advocates have claimed that Duterte's "war" on illegal drugs have emboldened the police to commit extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

Asked whether the Palace is concerned about the judge's ruling, Panelo replied: "Concerned in a sense that a false propaganda against the administration is being believed, yes. But concern that it will affect the administration's pursuit of the type of governance the president is pursuing, no."

Panelo also expressed doubts about the Flores couple's claim that they are political activists. He cited news reports stating that the couple went to the US in 2000 to visit relatives and to go sightseeing.

The couple, Panelo said, may have been advised by a lawyer to do things that would legalize their stay in the US.

"I'm thinking they may be joining the protests precisely for that purpose," Panelo said.  

"They have to create a condition so they can file a petition for asylum and the court granted them that," he added.

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