MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - What if we ban them here too?
Two administration senators on Saturday hit the move of United States Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin to ban from American soil Philippine officials involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.
Speaking in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said he would make a parallel proposal to President Rodrigo Duterte banning the American lawmakers here.
"These senators should also be banned here in the Philippines. I will suggest to President Duterte to ban these legislators from entering our country for interfering in our internal affairs. These senators think they know better than us in governing ourselves," said Go.
He said the US lawmakers' ban proposal spat on Philippine sovereignty and the judicial process.
"It is an affront [to] our sovereignty and our ability to govern ourselves. It unduly pressures our independent course and disrespects the entire judicial process of the Philippines by questioning its competence," he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III also hit the US senators' move, calling them meddlers in Philippine affairs.
"Ano kaya pakiramdam ng senador na 'yun kung mayroon mag-file ng resolution dito na sabihin na huwag papasukin sa Pilipinas lahat ng mag-iimpeach kay Trump? Ano kaya sasabihin nun? Pakialamero eh," said Sotto at a forum in Quezon City.
(How would they feel if a resolution is filed here saying senators supporting the move to impeach [US President Donald] Trump should be banned in the Philippines? They are meddling.)
He said De Lima is "innocent until proven guilty... but you can't have a US senator judge the case."
"Ang layo ah. Baka akala naman niya Commonwealth pa tayo," he said.
(It's so far-fetched. Maybe he thinks we're still an American Commonwealth.)
Former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez ripped into Durbin's "meddlesome and arrogant" move.
“Senator Durbin's brazen move to interfere with the internal affairs of our independent and sovereign nation makes him appear a moron at least, stupid at best," Alvarez said.
"He should be reminded that the Philippines is no longer an American colony. For him to think and act that way shows his misguided messianic complex."
De Lima has been detained since February 2017 on allegations made by high-profile convicts that she was involved in the drug trade at the state penitentiary when she was justice chief. De Lima, a staunch administration critic, has called the charges political persecution.
Leahy and Durbin, who have for long been calling for De Lima's release, had proposed an amendment in the 2020 State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill to deny US entry to any Philippine government official involved in De Lima's detention.
The US Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment Friday, which says "the Secretary of State shall apply subsection [prohibition on entry] to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of... Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017."
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez expressed concern for the proposal, calling it "very unfortunate."
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, meanwhile, called it a "brazen" attempt to intrude into the Philippines' internal affairs, saying it treats Manila as an "inferior state."
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in a statement Sunday, said he does not believe the opinion of the 2 US senators reflects the sentiment of the entire US Congress.
"It's not important to me whether they can step foot in Philippine territory or not. What is relevant to me is the potential backlash that these senators may suffer in their own country and abroad," he said.
De Lima and several opposition figures lauded the lawmakers' action.