The Philippine Embassy in Washington on Friday warned the United States Senate Resolution calling for the immediate release of detained Senator Leila de Lima “may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference” in the country’s domestic affairs.
The resolution, approved at the committee level, condemns 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 also called for the dropping of all charges against Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
De Lima has been in detention since 2017 for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade while Ressa is facing charges for violation of the Anti-Dummy Law and cyber libel.
In a statement, the embassy said De Lima and Ressa’s cases were 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.
In Malacañang, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the American senators were “misled” by members of the opposition for approving the resolution.
Panelo insisted the charges against De Lima and Ressa passed through judicial processes.
The US Senate committee on foreign relations passed Resolution No. 142, asking the government to free De Lima for her to “discharge her legislative mandate” and to “drop all charges” against Ressa.
The senators also called on US President Donald Trump to “impose sanctions” against security forces and officials responsible for De Lima’s arrest, which include revoking their US visas and freezing their assets.
“Apparently they have been misled by the reports coming from the opposition, as well as media outlets who had been biased against the administration,” Panelo said in a television interview.
He also said US lawmakers should “study” the case of the two women instead of merely relying on news reports.
The Embassy added that Senate Resolution 142 is “ultimately unhelpful in this regard not only because it may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference in our domestic affairs, but more importantly because it calls on the Philippine 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.”
The resolution, sponsored by US Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Edward Markey, and nine others, also castigates the Philippine government for the deaths related to its anti-illegal drug campaign.
Exactly a month ago, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez met with Markey and Durbin and updated them on the cases of De Lima and Ressa.
Amid the latest developments in the US resolution, the Embassy said the Philippine side remained open to engaging American lawmakers and other stakeholders on the matter.
“They should study our judicial process that we are going through, so they could avoid mistakes and that they should not listen to the rumors, those you read in the newspapers, the reports you received saying that Senator De Lima is persecuted—that’s not true,” Panelo said.
De Lima is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame over allegations that she allowed the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison during her term as Justice secretary.
She was also accused of extorting money from drug lords to fund her senatorial campaign in 2016.
On her part, she has repeatedly dismissed the allegations against her as “political persecution” and “politically-motivated.”
Meanwhile, Ressa was arrested early this year over a cyber libel case filed against her by businessman Wilfredo Keng over a Rappler report in 2012 linking him to illegal drugs, human trafficking, and a murder case. She was also slapped with tax-related charges.
Her arrest sparked outrage from local and international press freedom and human rights groups who saw it as a government attempt to silence critics of President Rodrigo Duterte. With PNA