United States Senator Richard Dublin said on Tuesday that the Duterte administration should release Senator Leila de Lima instead of threatening its longtime allies by restricting entry of American citizens to the Philippines.
Dublin issued the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte issued an order barring Durbin and another US Senator, Patrick Leahy, from entering the country and threatened to require all US citizens to secure visas before entering the country.
It was Dublin and Leahy who proposed that the US prevent Filipino officials linked to the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.
“The Duterte administration should stop threatening the travel of these Filipino Americans and so many others who travel between our nations and instead release Senator De Lima or assure a quick and credible trial,” Durbin said in a statement.
Durbin described Duterte’s order as a “strong arm tactic” that “is an insult to the Filipino American community and the country’s democracy.”
Durbin and Leahy, introduced a provision in the US’ 2020 fiscal federal budget bill stating that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shall apply subsection (prohibition on entry) to foreign government officials about whom he “has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.
US President Donald Trump approved the budget earlier this month.
In defending the detained Philippine senator, Durbin described De Lima, a staunch critic of the Duterte administration especially its bloody drug war, as a human rights champion who has been detained “on highly questionable charges.”
“Her release, which has been championed by groups such as Amnesty International and now the US Congress is unfortunately the symbolic of the larger price one increasingly pays for peaceful dissent and honest journalism under President Duterte in the Philippines,” he said.
“These voices, like De Lima’s and Rappler journalist Maria Ressa’s, face harassment and imprisonment for fostering honest coverage regarding the country’s sweeping extra judicial killings which is an affront to the cherished democratic norms we share with our long standing Filipino allies.”
But Malacañang stood its ground on De Lima’s case and slammed Leahy and Dick Durbin for intruding in the country’s sovereignty.
“The call of these foreign officials to release Senator Leila de Lima, who is presently facing charges before an independent Philippine court, is a brazen interference into our sovereignty,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement.
Panelo also said the demand of two lawmakers to grant “fair, speedy, and credible” trial to De Lima—who has been in detention since February 2017 due to drug charges—was “misplaced,” arguing that the courts have been providing that to her as required by the Constitution.
“This matter is a case between Senator de Lima and the People of the Philippines,” Panelo said.
“If any party feels that such constitutional guarantee is not being observed, then such party should avail of appropriate remedial measures under Philippine law instead of resorting to unfair publicity stunts,” he added.
Panelo also defended President Duterte for his order to require Americans citizens to secure a visa before entering the country.
“At any rate, imposing requirements in securing a visa to foreign nationals prior to entry into the Philippines is an exercise of a sovereign right and is not an insult to any particular community,” Panelo said.
“In fact, they have been requiring Filipinos to secure a US visa before we can travel into their homeland. As the community of nation believes in, ‘diplomacy is equality,’” he added.
The government has accused De Lima, who has been detained in Camp Crame since February 2017, of benefiting financially from the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison during her term as secretary of the Department of Justice.
De Lima has denied the charges, claiming she is a victim of political persecution for being a very vocal member of the opposition.