United States Senator Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-Illinois), one of the three American senators that were barred from entering the Philippines for criticizing the Duterte administration’s human rights record, is now the Majority Whip under the Democrat-controlled US Senate.
Durbin’s new role in the US Congress came shortly after the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the 46th President of the United States on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.
“For six long years, Republicans have controlled the Senate. That ends today. Proud to be back on the Senate floor in my role as Majority Whip,” Durbin tweeted on Wednesday (Thursday morning in Manila)
The majority whip is mainly responsible for mobilizing votes within their parties on major issues, and in the absence of the majority floor leader, the whip serves as acting floor leader.
Durbin, along with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) supported an amendment to a provision in the US Fiscal Year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill imposing a travel ban on Philippine government officials complicit in the imprisonment of Sen. Leila De Lima.
Days after the US bill was signed by President Donald J. Trump in December 2019, the US Embassy in Manila revoked the visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. Dela Rosa served as the first Philippine National Police chief under the Duterte administration.
The government in Manila immediately responded by barring the entry of Durbin, Leahy, and Markey to the Philippines.
Aside from calling for De Lima’s release from her detention, the ranking US Democratic senators also adopted a committee resolution urging the Duterte administration to drop all the charges against Rappler executive Maria Ressa.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., in a tweet on Dec. 15, 2019, called the US Senate resolution “idiotic,” arguing that the American legislators should observe “separation of powers” and “independence of nations.”
“Idiotic. Even a Philippine Senate resolution is not one of the ways of ending a criminal trial; there’s only acquittal or conviction or dismissal by a demurrer to evidence. But a US Senate resolution? Aside from separation of powers, there’s the independence of nations,” Locsin said in his Twitter post.
In February last year, Duterte ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a strategic pact between Washington and Manila that allows US forces to retain jurisdiction over its forces temporarily stationed in the Philippines.
The senator from Illinois is the chief author of the DREAM Act, a legislative proposal to grant temporary conditional residency with the right to work to unauthorized immigrants who entered the US as minors.
President Biden, for his first official act, signed an extensive immigration reform bill that includes an 8-year pathway for immigrants to stay in the US, an act that is expected to benefit thousands of undocumented migrants, including Filipinos.
“Eternally grateful to my friend @JoeBiden for keeping his word and restoring DACA on day one. But until Congress passes the Dream Act, our work isn’t finished. I first introduced the Dream Act 20 years ago. I’ll keep fighting until it is the law of the land,” Durbin said in a separate tweet.