Government officials have banded against a United States Senate Resolution calling for the immediate release of detained Senator Leila de Lima as they brand it as blatant meddling.
The Philippine Embassy in Washington warned the move of the American legislators “may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference” in the country’s domestic affairs.
On Thursday, US Senator Dick Durbin announced that the Senate foreign relations committee has passed Senator Ed Markey’s resolution backing the release of De Lima and the dropping of cases against Rappler CEO and journalist Maria Ressa.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and House Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte also both assailed the resolution.
Approved at the committee level, it condemned the Philippine government for the continued detention of de Lima.
The detained senator was described as a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.” The text of the resolution also called for the dropping of all charges against Ressa who is being charged for violation of the anti-dummy law and cyberlibel.
De Lima, on the other hand, has been in detention since 2017 for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secetary Martin Andanar viewed the legislative action as highly “imprudent.”
“We find the passage of US Senate Resolution 142 by the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee highly impudent,” Andanar said in a statement.
“To try to strong-arm the government into freeing Sen. De Lima and dropping charges against Maria Ressa is infringing on our country’s legal process and system, to which they have no say whatsoever,” he added.
For Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, the two US senators who were pivotal in the Senate resolution have made out their cases before the international media and have lobbied through legislative body because they know that “in here, there is no merit to their claims.”
“We continue our good relations with the United States and our independent foreign policy. But, the government sees no point to give attention to an ostensible move by people who have little knowledge of the real matter at hand,” he added.
Panelo, said the US lawmakers have been misled by reports coming from the opposition as well as media considered biased against the administration about the situation of De Lima.
In a television interview, Panelo reminded the US lawmakers to study carefully the judicial process in the country that led to De Lima’s detention.
“What I can’t understand is they adhere not to understand the judicial process of this country,” Panelo said.
“You know, they should know, because the judicial system of that country and ours are almost the same, there is a preliminary investigation conducted by another administrative officer, meaning the public prosecutors who investigate the case and they find probable cause, then the respondent will be charged in court, but before the warrant of arrest shall be issued, there will be another determination of the existence of a probable cause by a judge after evaluating the evidence, in other words there are processes before a person can be charged and then bring him in court.”
From whose authority?
In a social media post, President Rodrigo Duterte’s son has tagged the US lawmakers move as intrusive, questioning their authority to interfere in another state’s jurisdiction.
“Is the US Senate, the world senate? Is it a body of American lawmakers who think they can decide for the whole word? Tagalog: Pakialamero; Bisaya: Maapil-apilon,” Congressman Duterte said in an online post.
Go also shared the same sentiment telling the Americans to look into the charges closely before they accuse President Rodrigo Duterte of political harassment.
“What does the US Senate has to do with the Philippines? Why are they intruding into our matters? Are they senators here in our country? They should know first if this is really a matter of political harassment or if she really has a legitimate case,” Go said in a statement.
“Don’t intrude into the matters that you are not aware of. President (Rodrigo) Duterte is not any way interfering in this matter. He doesn’t do political harassment. He is not that kind of politician,” he added.
Not President’s style
Go explained the President is already 74 years old and is focused on his work as a top official of the country. “Harassing his co-politician is not his cup of tea, not his style,” according to Go.
“Glad to see Senate Foreign Relations Committee pass (Sen. Markey’s) resolution, that I proudly cosponsored, calling on the government of the Philippines to end the troubling detention of Filipina Sen. Leila de Lima and harassment of journalist Maria Ressa,” Durbin said.
The post was shared by Markey claiming that De Lima has been detained for standing for human rights.
“For over 1,000 days now, (Sen. Leila de Lima) has languished in prison. Her crime: standing for human rights and good governance in the Philippines. Today’s passage of my resolution out of the Senate foreign relations committee demonstrates broad support for accountability in her case and with others,” he added.
Recently, the US Senate Appropriations Committee has passed an amendment blocking the entry of any Philippine government officials who are involved in the detention of De Lima. Durbin was the one who introduced the said amendment.
De Lima was detained in 2017 for allegedly receiving drug money from convicted criminals during her time as Secretary of Justice.
Undermining rule of law
In a statement, the Philippine Embassy said De Lima’s and Ressa’s cases are being handled in accordance with Philippine laws and processes.
“We note the sentiments contained in Senate Resolution 142. As close treaty allies that seek to address common challenges, the Philippines and the United States should focus on what they can do together, including capacity-building for the criminal justice system and related institutions,” it said.
Senate Resolution 142 was branded “ultimately unhelpful, not only because it may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference in our domestic affairs, but more importantly because it calls on the government to pursue actions that undermine the rule of law, which is the very principle that the United States professes to uphold and stand for.”