Philippines' Duterte Imposes Travel Restrictions on Americans, Accuses Congress of Interference Over Jailed Critic

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has banned two U.S. senators from entering the country and threatened further travel restrictions on Americans, in response to Congress' backing of a jailed government critic.

Duterte ordered his Bureau of Immigration to block the entry of senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy, Reuters reported.

The U.S. lawmakers were behind a provision passed by Congress this month as part of the 2020 budget, which seeks to block any Philippines official involved in the controversial detention of Senator Leila De Lima from entering the U.S.

De Lima is a Philippines senator, former justice minister and critic of the president's war on drugs, calling for an international investigation into Duterte's crackdown. She was arrested in February 2017 on drugs charges and has been detained since. De Lima claims the charges were concocted by the administration to silence her.

Duterte's drug war is believed to have claimed more than 12,000 lives since June 2016, according to Human Rights Watch. Police claim all of those killed were drug dealers who resisted arrest, but human rights groups have said that many of the deaths were extrajudicial executions carried out by police and associated vigilantes.

Americans can currently visit the Philippines visa-free for up to 30 days. U.S. tourists currently represent almost 13 percent of all foreign arrivals, Reuters said, with 792,000 citizens traveling to the country in the first nine months of 2019.

But Duterte's spokesperson said Friday that U.S. tourists would be required to get visas if any Philippines officials are blocked from entering the U.S. under Durbin and Leahy's proposal.

The measure bans the entry of "foreign government officials involved in the wrongful imprisonment... of Senator Leila de Lima, who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017."

Duterte spokesperson Salvador Panelo told a regular press conference Friday, "We will not sit idly if they continue to interfere with our processes as a sovereign state." He added, "The case of Senator De Lima is not one of persecution but of prosecution."

"We reiterate that the Philippines—and we address this to the senators specifically named as well as those who approved the provision—that we the Philippines is an independent and sovereign state and it stands in parity with other states, including the United States," Panelo continued, according to CNN.

Panelo described Durbin and Leahy as "imperious, uninformed, and gullible American legislators who introduced the subject provisions into the 2020 budget." Duterte ordered the ban on Thursday night, though neither senator had plans to travel to the Philippines, CNN reported.

David Carle, a spokesperson for Leahy, told Newsweek that the senator believes the charges against De Lima are politically motivated.

Carle explained, "This is about the right of Filipino citizens—and people everywhere—to freely express their opinions, including opinions that may be critical of government policies that involve the use of excessive force and the denial of due process."

This article has been updated to include comments from David Carle.

Rodrigo Duterte, senators, travel ban, Americans, US
In this photo taken on November 19, 2019, Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a press conference at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines. TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty