In this May 9, 2019 photo, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. hosts a reception to launch the Philippine candidature to the United Nations Board of Auditors at the DFA headquarters.
DFA/Release
US-Philippines ties still 'perfect' despite travel ban on De Lima detainers — Locsin
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - December 26, 2019 - 12:48pm

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said that the United States and the Philippines continue to share amicable ties despite the passage of a Washington provision that bans anyone implicated in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima from entering American soil.

"[It's] perfect [...] that's the legislative branch. The same in Europe, sometimes the legislative branch in the European Parliament says something against us," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"Read the (US) resolution, the resolution says we are giving authority to the executive branch to look into these people who may have been responsible for the illegal detention of de Lima." 

The foreign affairs secretary also defended the arrest of De Lima as perfectly legal, pointing to the Supreme Court decision on the senator's appeal.

"My answer is, illegal? Who said it's illegal? The Supreme Court said no, it's legal, so who would you believe?" he said. 

Politically motivated 

De Lima in 2018 lost her appeal before the high court which affirmed the validity of her arrest over charges filed against her by the Department of Justice.

The United States provision, though, recognizes the arrest as "wrongful" and "illegal." 

“The Senate considers Senator De Lima to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression," read a separate US resolution submitted in April. 

Throughout her detention, De Lima has had the vocal support of the international community as even the United Nations Human Rights Council has tagged her arrest as "politically motivated" due to her criticism of the Duterte administration. 

The opposition senator is spending her third Yuletide season in a row in detention. She has long held that the drug-related allegations against her are trumped-up and politically motivated owing to her history of criticism against the Duterte administration's policies, particularly its so-called "war on drugs."

Of the passage of the provision, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra opted to stay silent, saying he did not care if he was included in the final list. 

"I will leave it to our foreign affairs secretary to comment on this development," he said. 

"This issue is much bigger than the prosecution of Senator De Lima on drug charges under Philippine laws. this involves issues of sovereignty and non-interference among co-equal nations."

Who is affected? 

Although the US State Department has not yet released a list of those barred from entry, De Lima once listed down the names of people involved in her arrest in an October release. 

According to the detained senator, her "illegal" detention came as a result of the efforts of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, former DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, Solicitor General Jose Calida, PAO Chief Persida Acosta, Sandra Cam, Dante Jimenez, Congressmen Rey Umali and Rudy Fariñas.

She also said that even before her trial, a social media campaign was launched by Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot, and RJ Nieto to besmirch her reputation. 

“US can refuse visas to anyone it wants for any reason; the PH deported a nun in that way,” Locsin said on Twitter in reaction to the provision.

“It is an aspect of sovereignty,” he added.

Locsin, who normally posts official releases on his Twitter account, said that the two countries had "perfect" relations but recognized that any country has the right to ban foreign nationals from its borders.

But Malacañang in a separate statement said that the resolution was an attack on Philippine sovereignty. 

READ: US Senate resolution vs De Lima detention tramples on sovereignty — Palace

“It is a brazen and heedless affront against the dignity not only of the Philippine Government but of our country’s sovereignty as well. It is an undisguised and outrageous intrusion to a sovereign state. There can be no excuse for the US Senate Committee not to know that the Philippines has long ceased to be a colony of the United States,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement on Facebook.

The US Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, under which the aforementioned provision is included, also includes provisions to ban the detainers of American nationals in other foreign nations such as Egypt and Turkey. 

'Perfect' relations

"Ang problema hindi (The problem is not the) possibility if he will go, it's whether he wants to go. He has had so many invitations already from (US) President Trump, he really likes Duterte," he said.

RELATED: Trump call with Duterte left White House ‘genuinely horrified’

The two Presidents have historically been very warm towards one another, with the Republican leader once vocally expressing support for Duterte's "drug war."

In a call dated April 29, 2017, US President Donald Trump congratulated Duterte for an "unbelievable job on the drug problem," which left many in the White House "genuinely horrified."

This, despite Duterte taking on a more pro-China stance in his foreign policy ever since he entered office. The chief executive has long been vocal about his intent to distance himself from the United States in his pursuit of an "independent" foreign policy. 

READ: Filipinos see US as top ally, China as greatest threat — poll

But a December survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that the United States remained the country's greatest ally for most Filipinos, who likewise saw China and their increasing presence in the country as a threat. 

Despite mounting Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea, Locsin in a separate statement defended Duterte's foreign policy, saying the Philippines stood up to China when it needed to. 

RELATED: Philippines is 'the lead in the South China Sea disputes,' Locsin claims

SEN. LEILA DE LIMA TEDDYBOY LOCSIN JR.
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