Ronald dela Rosa and Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte and then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald dela Rosa chat on the sidelines of the oath-taking ceremony for newly-appointed chairs of the different Regional Peace and Order Councils (RPOCs) in the country at the Heroes Hall of Malacañan Palace on January 19, 2017. (King Rodriguez/Presidential Photo)

In another demonstration of unpresidential pique, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Bureau of Immigration to stop United States Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy’s from entering the country. Messrs. Durbin and Leahy were the most instrumental in the decision to include in the 2020 US budget act, which Duterte phone pal Donald Trump has signed into law, a provision ordering the Secretary of State to deny entry into the US anyone in Philippine officialdom involved in the persecution, arrest and detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima.

They defended China’s Hong Kong enclave when it denied entry to former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Morales-Carpio last June. But in this instance, Mr. Duterte’s fellow Sinophiles and masters of double talk and the double standard were outraged enough to describe the 2020 US budget provision as “brazen” interference in Philippine domestic affairs,  “weaponizing” human rights, and “shocking,” among other epithets. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo even trashed Senators Durbin and Leahy by calling them “imperious, uninformed and gullible.” 

Because of his possible inclusion in the State Department list of those bureaucrats responsible for Senator de Lima’s imprisonment, it was only a matter of time before the Philippines’ own truly imperious President did something cheeky — thus the ban on the two US senators, and even talk of requiring visas of US citizens to enter the Philippines.

Apparently no one told Mr. Duterte that the most likely to be affected by such a visa requirement are US citizens of Filipino extraction who regularly visit the country. As for Senators Durbin and Leahy, neither is likely to come visiting, or to even consider doing so. The Philippines is in their perspective just another backward, corruption-wracked Third World country under the boot heels of a petty tyranny — and where, they and the rest of US officialdom are fully aware, some 20 percent of the population would rather be elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” is mostly the United States, where immigrants of Philippine origin already comprise the fastest growing minority group. The US is also the one country those they’ve left behind most dream of living, working and enjoying First World amenities in.

Those dreamers aren’t limited to nurses and doctors fleeing the vagaries of the Philippine health system. They also include members of the most incompetent and most corrupt political class in Asia. A number of them have secretly acquired the green cards that legally allow holders to stay in any of the 50 states of the American Union, and some are even US citizens.    

The Philippines is to them nothing more than an airport from which they can take the next plane out to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, or Honolulu.  But unlike the many who’ve managed to escape the wretchedness of this country and the bleak future it has in store for their children, the creatures spawned by the putrid swamp of Philippine dynastic politics have stolen enough from the public treasury to have the means to make sure they won’t have to mop floors at McDonald’s or work at three jobs in the US to make their car and home payments once they retire or flee the country. 

With a certain family as their role model — a family whose members have enough billions in the US, Switzerland and elsewhere to last them several lifetimes — they too have put their ill-gotten wealth into real estate, jewelry, artwork and million-dollar bank accounts elsewhere rather than in the country of their birth. 

Their clueless online trolls, print and broadcasting hacks and other bought-and-paid-for defenders can’t account for it, but their patrons’ having stowed away much of their loot in the US explains the shock and awe with which they reacted to the possibility of their being banned from entry into that country, where they have been planning to retire in guilt- and penalty-free comfort.

The US has long served as the haven of choice of the former dictators, human rights violators and assorted villains it supported. It has welcomed them with open arms, as it did Ferdinand Marcos and company in 1986 during the Ronald Reagan Presidency. But a US law, the Magnitsky Act, is attempting to correct the US’ providing human rights violators and other wrongdoers the impunity they have long enjoyed.

Passed in 2012 when Barack Obama was President, the Magnitsky Act was supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. It was in response to the arrest, detention, torture and death while in Russian government custody of tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky. The bill applies globally and empowers the State Department to ban the entry into the US and to freeze the assets of human rights violators such as those responsible for the persecution of government critics, dissenters and human rights defenders. The Act was invoked by Senators Durbin and Leahy when they included in the 2020 US budget the instruction to the Secretary of State to prevent the entry into the US  of those responsible for the imprisonment of  Mustafa Kassem in Egypt and Leila de Lima in the Philippines.

But wait, can’t the worthies affected — whoever they may be — still access their assets from any country that will accept them?  Once frozen, those assets will be inaccessible anywhere on the planet. A number of other countries, among them Canada, the United Kingdom, and even the former Soviet Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have also passed their own versions of the Magnitsky Act. It further shrinks their world and limits the options not only of those whom the US State Department will identify as responsible for the persecution of Senator de Lima but also others who will abuse their power and use the so-called justice system against their critics and political rivals. Other countries are also contemplating the passage of a similar law, among them the European Union, Australia, and Ukraine.

There is of course imperialist China, the leaders of which can at the very least repay the Duterte government for putting their country’s strategic, political and economic interests ahead of the Philippines’ own by welcoming their toadies into their vast homeland. But that option is about as attractive to this country’s bogus patriots as lunar exile, that country’s language, culture, traditions and way of doing things being as alien to them as those of Alpha Centauri. Curse the US as they and their boss of bosses might, it is still, as decades of colonial and imperial indoctrination have implanted into their uncritical brains, the one country they believe to be the embodiment of the best of all possible worlds and in which they will be most at home.

Senator De Lima has already named not only Mr. Duterte but also his past and present yes-men and accomplices in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government as responsible for her “politically motivated” imprisonment. But it is still up to the Secretary of State to decide who to ban from the US and whose assets to freeze. Whether short or long, the final list of names will send to despots and their accomplices everywhere the message that nothing is forever. Even more crucially can it also be one more stone removed from the Great Wall of impunity that for far too long has shielded the despoilers of this country from the penalties they so richly deserve, and denied their victims the justice that is everyone’s right.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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