THE Philippines has barred entry to an EU party official critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on illegal drugs, in a move denounced by critics Monday as a gag on dissent.
Italian Giacomo Filibeck was detained by police upon his arrival at Cebu airport Sunday and deported for engaging in “illegal political activities,” his party said.
Filibeck, the deputy secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists, flew to the Philippines at the invitation of opposition party Akbayan to attend a congress.
He had been part of a delegation of European politicians who conducted an October 2017 fact-finding mission in the Philippines that denounced the “extrajudicial killings” of thousands of people in Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown.
“I’m not really worried [for myself]. It’s just about jumping back from the plane and going back to Europe. What really worries me is the condition in which you are engaged in politically in the struggle for freedom, dignity, and human rights,” he said in a video message to Akbayan.
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin denounced the move as “a gag order to all and sundry that you cannot look into the human rights situation in the Philippines.”
“Actions of the Duterte government... really show that degree of impunity has risen to the level of a dictatorship,” he added.
Duterte has launched an unprecedented campaign against illegal drugs since winning elections in mid-2016.
Police say they have killed 4,100 drug suspects as part of the campaign, while rights groups claim the toll is around three times the official figure.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Filibeck was refused entry for violating local laws.
“Mr. Filibeck has been blacklisted by the [immigration bureau] for violation of our immigration laws which prohibit aliens staying in our country from engaging in political activities,” Guevarra said.
Manila and the European Union have clashed over the drugs crackdown, with Brussels saying it was a matter of “serious concern,” while Duterte has rejected criticism from the “stupid organization” and denounced it as interference in the country’s domestic affairs.
Filibeck’s party denounced his deportation, adding it had informed EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini of the incident.
“It is completely unacceptable that a PES political representative... should be treated as a criminal on the orders of the government,” party president Sergei Stanishev said in a statement on its website.
“We refuse to be silenced. We will continue to express our solidarity with the democratic opposition to Mr. Duterte’s increasingly authoritarian rule in the Philippines.”
EU officials asked the Philippines to clarify the incident.
“We are aware of this incident and are seeking immediate and sound clarifications from the Philippine authorities as to why this took place,” said EU Ambassador Franz Jessen.
Guevarra defended the move of immigration authorities.
“It is unlawful for aliens staying in our country to engage in partisan political activities, and the government has the right to refuse entry to those who have committed these illegal acts in the past,” Guevarra said in a text message Monday.
According to Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, Filibeck was denied entry because he violated the conditions of his stay as a tourist when he came into the country last year and engaged in partisan political activity, which is forbidden under immigration law.
“He was not supposed to do that because being a tourist he does not enjoy the rights and privileges of a Philippine citizen, particularly the exercise of political rights which are exclusively reserved for Filipinos,” Morente said.
“We cannot allow the entry of foreigners who have shown disrespect to our duly-constituted authorities by meddling and interfering in our internal affairs as a sovereign nation,” he added.
BI said that it was not the first time that a foreigner was expelled for engaging in political activities.
In August 2013, the authorities deported 20-year-old Dutch activist Thomas
Van Beersum after he was photographed yelling at a weeping police officer during a rally outside the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City while then President Benigno Aquino III was making his State of the Nation Address.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said it is every country’s prerogative to deny entry to a foreigner.
“In international law, it is always a sovereign decision whom they wish to allow into their territory. So we are not obliged to allow anyone into our territory if we do not want them in our territory,” Roque said.
The opposition Liberal Party denounced the deportation of Filibeck.
“The Duterte administration should be able to make a distinction between expressing criticisms and fomenting unrest. The presence of the foreign guests definitely is not aimed at the latter,” said Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party.
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