Chief Justice hits out at US senators’ interference

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Monday denounced the call of two US senators to ban Filipino officials responsible for what they called the “wrongful imprisonment” of opposition Senator Leila de Lima as an act of interference.

READ: US senator joins call for De Lima’s release

Bersamin, who is retiring from the judiciary on Oct. 18, said US lawmakers have the freedom to come up with and adopt resolutions, but they should not interfere with other countries, especially in the function and workings of the court.

“That’s obviously a PR tour de force. If they do implement that to ban officials whom they believe are responsible for the continuing incarceration of Senator De Lima, it’s their privilege and I think [there’s] nothing we can do about that, but the nature of that kind of action is interference,” Bersamin said, in an interview on CNN Philippines.

De Lima is currently detained at the Philippine National Police headquarters, in connection with the illegal drug charges filed against her for her alleged involvement in the narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary when she was still the Justice secretary.

The senator denied the accusation saying she just earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte for her opposition to the bloody anti-drug war and her investigation on the alleged human rights violations committed by the administration.

The US Senate Appropriations Committee on Sept. 27 approved a budget bill with an amendment that denies entry to the United States the Filipino officials behind her detention.

Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy initiated the amendment.

Bersamin said he would and could not allow outside interference on the case, especially since the courts handling the case are fully functioning.

“If they are trying to dictate what we should do on a matter that is in front of the court, I won’t agree to that,” Bersamin said in Filipino. “Let the courts function… and let the person involved… answer the charges in that forum.”

The chief justice also said he could not be considered as among the Filipino officials involved in De Lima’s detention, adding that his vote upholding the jurisdiction of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court to hear De Lima’s case and not the Sandiganbayan as she argued is part of his mandate to discharge a judicial function.

Aside from Bersamin, the other justices that voted against De Lima are Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Samuel Martires, Noel Tijam, Andres Reyes, and Alexander Gesmundo.

Meanwhile, the Palace slammed a religious organization for submitting a supplemental communication before the International Criminal Court urging the tribunal to begin its probe into President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

This came as a response to Rise Up for Life and Rights, which submitted a letter to the ICC asking Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to start the investigation.

Bensouda opened an initial investigation into the drug war killings in February 2018.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo dismissed the group as “noisy anti-Duterte critics and detractors” known for “resorting to political theatrics and gimmickry to demonize the President.”

He also said the Palace was hardly surprised by the supplemental pleading, claiming the investigation was “doomed from the start.”

Panelo said the action taken by Rise Up was meant to embarrass Duterte who was in Russia when the communication was filed before the ICC.

READ: PH senators hit back at US solons

Topics: Lucas Bersamin , Leila de Lima , Philippine National Police , Dick Durbin
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