'Just tit for tat': Gov't bans 2 US senators, threatens to require visa for all Americans

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 27) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration to also refuse entry to two American lawmakers for proposing the ban from the United States of Philippine officials involved in Senator Leila De Lima's detention.

"The Philippines is immediately ordering the Bureau of Immigration to deny US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy – the imperious, uninformed, and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provisions into the 2020 budget – entry to the Philippines," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said as he read a prepared statement during a media briefing on Friday.

He said the President asked him Thursday night to issue the statement. This means that the ban is "effective immediately," said Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who has supervision over the Immigration Bureau.

Durbin and Leahy have not made public any plans to go to Manila. They introduced the amendment in the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations in the 2020 US budget, which prohibits the entry of "foreign government officials involved in the wrongful imprisonment... of Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017."

The spending measure was signed by US President Donald Trump this month, but Malacañang claims the ban on Philippine officials who had roles in sending De Lima to jail has yet to take effect. Panelo said there needs to have a "credible information" before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could impose the sanctions.

READ: De Lima accusers barred from US

Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa earlier admitted he has not visited the US in a while for fear of being denied entry amid talks his US visa had been canceled over alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018. Dela Rosa said he has not received any word from the US government that he could no longer visit the country.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. reiterated Malacañang's earlier statement it was unfazed by the new US law. "It isn’t. Just tit for tat," the senior diplomat said on Twitter.

Threat vs. US citizens

Panelo said that once Pompeo enforces the ban, the government will require all Americans to secure a visa before entering the country – regardless of the purpose of their visit and the length of their stay. Under the current setup, US citizens visiting the Philippines for not more than 30 days do not need to apply for a visa.

"We will not sit idly if they continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign state," Panelo said.

Guevarra in a separate statement said his department has not received a formal order from the President on requiring visas for all Americans, adding that the Cabinet will not meet until January 6.

Duterte will formally decline Trump's standing invitation for him to visit the US, Panelo said, but stressed that he has no ill feelings towards the North American president.

READ: Duterte to talk to Trump if US OKs ban on PH officials behind De Lima detention

Durbin, Leahy, and De Lima

Durbin and Leahy are among the foreign lawmakers who have been calling for the release of De Lima, a staunch Duterte critic.

Panelo reiterated that De Lima's detention was not a case of political persecution, noting that no less than the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of her arrest on drug charges.

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 Aquino administration. She has maintained her innocence and accused the government of fabricating the cases against her.

CNN Philippines' Glee Jalea contributed to this report.