US Senate panel OKs barring PH officials involved in De Lima's detention

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Metro Manila (CNN Philppines, September 27) — A U.S. Senate committee has approved an amendment to a bill that seeks to ban Philippine officials involved in the continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima from entering the North American country.

The amendment filed by U.S. lawmakers in the Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill would prohibit Philippine government officials involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima from entering their country, according to the resolution released Friday.

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin said the amendment will cover all officials tagged in De Lima's "politically-motivated" detention.

"Good to see the Senate Appropriations Committee pass my amendment with @SenatorLeahy today to prohibit entry to any Philippine Government Officials involved in the politically motivated imprisonment of Filipina Senator Leila de Lima in 2017. We must #FreeLeilaNow," he tweeted.

The provision in the resolution also sought to ban the entry of officials from other countries—including those involved in the case of Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen currently detained in Egypt.

“In addition, the Secretary shall apply such subsection to officials of the governments of Turkey, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful detention of locally employed staff of a US diplomatic mission or a US citizen or national,” the provision further read.

‘Against PH sovereignty’

Malacañang, reacting to the US Senate committee's action, said this move is an intrusion into the Philippines' legal processes and a clear interference with the nation's sovereignity.

"It treats our country as an inferior state unqualified to run its own affairs. All sensible Filipinos, regardless of their political or social association, should feel affronted and disrespected by this insulting and offensive act. Consistent with our position against sovereign interference, we will not respond to this group of American legislators by performing any repulsive action to reverse its decision," Presidential Spokesperson Sal Panelo said in a statement.

Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson echoed the sentiment, saying the “uncalled for” bill would be a “clear encroachment of the Philippines' judicial system.”

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, meanwhile, said their government has yet to release the list of all government officials included in the ban.

“We need to engage with Washington on this question first. We unfortunately don’t expect an answer before Monday,” it said in a statement.

Durbin was one of five U.S. senators who previously filed the resolution calling on the Philippine government to drop charges against De Lima and journalist Maria Ressa. The same resolution also encouraged the government to “recognize the importance of human rights defenders” in the Philippines.

RELATED: U.S. senators urge PH gov't to drop charges vs. De Lima, Maria Ressa 

De Lima, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug war, is currently detained for allegedly abetting an illegal drug trade during her term as justice secretary in the previous administration. She has maintained her innocence and accused the government of fabricating the cases against her.

Meanwhile, Ressa, the CEO of news site Rappler, which the President has repeatedly slammed for its critical coverage of his administration, was slapped with multiple charges, totaling 11 complaints and cases. She has posted bail seven times. Ressa has repeatedly accused the government of "weaponizing the law" to silence its critics.