The Palace on Sunday slammed US Senator Patrick Leahy for saying the Philippine government should free detained lawmaker Leila de Lima instead of threatening to deny visas for American citizens.
Leahy, one of the American legislators whom President Rodrigo Duterte ordered barred from entering the Philippines
, cried foul over the threat to require American citizens to secure a visa before entering the country.
“Rather than responding by irrationally threatening to deny visas to American citizens, the Duterte government should either release Senator De Lima immediately or provide her the fair, public trial she is entitled to,” Leahy said in a statement.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Leahy is “talking from ignorance” and should educate himself on the country’s legal processes to avoid embarrassment.
“The US Senator is talking nonsense. He should educate himself on our processes re: Filing of cases against the accused and their release by the courts before blabbering so he would not embarrass the lofty position he is holding as well as the institution he represents. He is talking from ignorance,” Panelo told Manila Standard.
Leahy, along with Senator Richard Durbin, introduced a provision in the 2020 US national budget that prohibits entry into the US of Philippine government officials
linked to the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima, who has been detained since February 2017 due to her alleged links to the illegal drug trade.
READ: US bans PH execs, Palace unfazed
This provision was later approved by US President Donald Trump.
In an apparent retaliation, President Duterte ordered an entry ban on Leahy and Durbin and said he would require American citizens to secure a visa before entering the Philippines if the US enforces the ban on Philippine officials.
Panelo said the President’s order would not affect the bilateral ties between the Philippines and the US, or Filipino workers in the United States.
Leahy noted that De Lima’s imprisonment, as well as the threats against a journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, “have been criticized around the world, including by the US Department of State and the United Nations.”
In a tweet, Leahy said he has always stood up for journalists’ right to report news both in the US and around the world.
Two Cabinet officials on Sunday rebuffed US lawmakers calling for De Lima’s release.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the only way for De Lima to be released from detention is upon acquittal by the court and not upon the pressure exerted by Leahy and other American lawmakers.
“I wish Senator Leahy and his four other colleagues in the US Senate know that much of our constitutional law and rules on criminal procedure had their origin in US law. I also wish they know that Senator De Lima’s indictment was upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court and that she has been freely exercising all the rights of an accused in a fair and public trial,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra also dismissed suggestions by the American senators that De Lima is a victim of political persecution by the Duterte administration, saying Leahy’s staff can come to the Philippines to see for themselves the evidence so far presented before the court against her.
Locsin argued that De Lima cannot just be released from detention unless she is able to controvert the evidence linking her to the illegal drug trade.
The country’s top diplomat even suggested that a speedy trial be conducted by the Muntinlupa regional trial courts hearing the drug cases against De Lima.
“This is a major concession: Trial, NOW! No postponements should be granted, “ Locsin said on his Twitter account.
Locsin noted that the “Supreme Court struck down with finality De Lima’s delaying tactic of challenging the sufficiency of the charges against her.”
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, said it would be pointless to file a diplomatic protest against the ban on the entry of Philippine officials involved in the imprisonment of De Lima.
In an interview over radio dzBB, Pimentel said a country controls who may or may not enter its territory.
He also said requiring Americans to obtain visas before entering the Philippines would result in a decline of US tourists.
READ: Duterte not bothered by Trump’s ban on Leila case