The whole trouble with any notion of a “Magnitsky Act” regime applied across independent nations is that actually executing its tenets is inherently problematic and will prove extremely difficult. In the case of reported plans of the UK and European Union each implementing their own versions of this Act, the result is likely to be toothless at best as “whatever the shape of the UK’s Magnitsky laws, they will at least (as, when and to the extent that they are done outside the EU’s sanctions regime) be challengeable in UK courts, as opposed to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which in this context is frankly close to worthless.”
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That last point exposes a real tension in the concept of Magnitsky sanctions, which are essentially decisions by elected politicians about a set of people who, because of allegations made about them that may or not be true combined with preconceptions about the countries they come from, are often terribly unpopular with voters. In any civilised jurisdiction based on the rule of law, even such unpopular individuals deserve due process, which here means the right to test those allegations in an independent court.
Indeed, the manner with which a who’s who of Filipino Opposition “thought leaders” latched on to this latest buzz as their next political weapon of mass destruction proves just how much of a political circus precedents set by these political tools could set. In this instance, the largest Opposition bloc of partisans loyal to the Aquino-Cojuangco clan and their so-called “Liberal Party” (collectively known as the Yellowtards) have cherry-picked its “targets” coming up with lists almost entirely made up of people associated with the incumbent government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
What the Yellowtards conveniently omit from their hit lists are characters within their ranks who, themselves, have been alleged perpetrators of “human rights abuse” as well. Indeed the key subject of a provision in the 2020 US budget recently signed by President Donald Trump invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, jailed Senator Leila De Lima, was, herself, involved in unwarranted detention of an Opposition politician, former President Gloria Arroyo, when she served as Justice Secretary under Duterte’s predecessor, former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III in 2011.
De Lima’s initial violation back then was in defying the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on the travel ban against Arroyo. De Lima even risked disbarment for ignoring the highest court’s order. Senator Miriam Santiago likewise questioned De Lima’s action citing the DOJ had no legal basis to issue a watch-list order against Arroyo since there was no pending case against the former President and was only a respondent in a joint DOJ Comelec investigation on electoral fraud at that time.
This highlights the folly in how the Yellowtard-led Philippine Opposition are once again rallying around yet another colonial saviour. As recent polls have shown, Duterte remains an overwhelmingly popular president and the idea of former colonial masters meddling in a case that can be resolved only within a former colony’s criminal justice system and, in the process, insults its judicial institutions, runs counter to the sensibilities of real Filipino nationalists.
Much of the ado surrounding claims that certain cherry-picked personalities will be “banned” from entering the US is being kicked up by Filipino partisans who had grown accustomed to relying on America for moral ascendancy. They forget that Duterte won on the back of a campaign to renew a sense of nationalism in Filipinos derived from a more indigenous notion of the concept and not one based on a copycat embrace of all things colonial. Ultimately Filipinos will defer to the ruling of their own courts and will very likely, in the next election, show the world — and their former imperial overlords — where they can stick it.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.