Philippines Senator Detained at SF Airport

Filipino Reporter, News Report, Staff Posted: Mar 27, 2005

MANILA — Sen. Luisa “Loi” Estrada was detained by U.S. immigration officials at the San Francisco International Airport in California on Sunday and questioned about the plunder charges against her husband, ousted President Joseph Estrada.

Philippine Senate President Franklin Drilon said that U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone had apologized for the incident over the telephone.

Joseph Estrada and a United States government official, 2000.

Ricciardone gave assurance that he would ask for a “full report from Washington” regarding the incident, Drilon said.

“They (U.S. immigration) need a lecture on how to deal with people who go to the U.S. They have a job to do but I am sure they can do it with more decorum and respect,” he added.

A ranking official of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who requested anonymity, said the Philippines may file a diplomatic protest against the U.S. because the former first lady had not violated U.S. immigration laws.

“We have reasons to complain,” the official said. “If these are the facts presented, we have grounds to file a protest. She (Estrada) is a senator and should be given courtesy.”

Quoting Estrada, Drilon said the senator and her party were met at the arrival area by agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and were immediately segregated from the other passengers.

Drilon, himself a “victim” of U.S. immigration’s strict security measures in 2002, said Estrada was held in a cubicle at the airport, where U.S. immigration officials led by a Filipino American identified as “Pangan” interrogated her for an hour and a half about her husband’s case.

“Such questions had nothing to do with U.S. immigration laws,” he said in a statement.

“I wonder why a member of the Philippine Senate had to be subjected to such irrelevant questioning. They need some lecturing on how to deal with people who go to the U.S. They have a job to do, but I am sure that they can do it with more decorum and respect,” he said.

Drilon did not say whether Estrada’s daughter, Jacqueline Ejercito-Lopez, and her grandchildren, who were traveling with her, were also detained and interrogated.

Drilon said Estrada called him up to complain that she had been “harassed” by U.S. immigration officials upon her arrival in San Francisco.

“As Senate president, I denounce this shabby treatment of a duly elected Filipino senator at the hands of U.S. immigration officials,” he said.

“These unnecessary and uncalled for cases of harassment of Filipino officials at U.S. airports should stop,” he said.

Estrada had asked permission from Drilon to travel to the U.S. to speak before the Filipino community in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She will be back on April 9.

Last year, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile said the U.S. Embassy canceled his multiple-entry visa because of security concerns that had not been explained to him.

In 2002, U.S. immigration officials stopped Drilon also at San Francisco International Airport and asked him to remove his shoes as part of strict security measures.

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