Philippines bans US senators, mulls visa for Americans

The Philippines banned two US senators and threatened to introduce visa restrictions for Americans entering the country, the president's spokesman said Friday, if Washington pushes ahead with sanctions against Filipino officials involved in jailing a leading opposition leader.

Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy were banned from entering the country after introducing a provision in the 2020 US budget that would prevent officials involved in the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima from entering the US, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

De Lima, one of the highest-profile critics of Duterte's controversial war on drugs, has been imprisoned since February 2017 over a drug charge -- but has claimed innocence, and accused him of persecuting political opponents.

"If they will enforce this provision in the US budget, then we will be compelled to require all Americans entering into this country to secure a visa before they can be allowed entry," Panelo said on Friday.

American tourists -- who can enter visa-free for up to 30 days -- account for more than a tenth of arrivals, according to the Philippines tourism department.

The senators' provision allows the US to deny entry to Philippine officials if the state department finds "credible information" on those involved in the "wrongful imprisonment" of De Lima.

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

De Lima, in a written statement from jail, thanked the senators for the provision, saying "impunity cannot last".

A former human rights commissioner, she has said her imprisonment was an act of revenge for her decade-long effort to expose the president's alleged death squads during his time as mayor of the southern city of Davao.

The US is a long-time Philippine ally as well as its largest defence partner and -- following nearly half a century of rule -- many Filipinos have relatives who migrated to the US who are American citizens.

Duerte's deadly war on drugs -- backed by many Filipinos but condemned by critics who say it is a war crime -- has claimed at least 5,500 lives, however, watchdogs say the actual toll is at least four times higher.

International Criminal Court prosecutors have launched a preliminary probe of the killing, and the UN's top rights body voted in favour of an in-depth review.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

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