A handful of American senators has caused quite the kerfuffle by banning from entry to the United States any Philippine official involved in the continuing detention of Senator Leila de Lima, who is facing drug charges before a Muntinlupa court.
US Senators Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin, believing that De Lima is being wrongly prosecuted for her politics, have introduced an amendment to the State Department budget bill to impose the ban.
The Palace and a number of senators immediately took umbrage at the move, calling it a bald-faced attempt to interfere in domestic legal affairs and an insult to Filipinos.
"It treats our country as an inferior state unqualified to run its own affairs,” a Palace statement said. “All sensible Filipinos, regardless of their political or social association, should feel affronted and disrespected by this insulting and offensive act.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the ban makes no sense and questioned its application.
Does it mean, he wanted to know, that all the witnesses who testified against De Lima, all the state prosecutors who found probable cause, the regional trial court judges who issued warrants for her arrest, and even the Supreme Court justices who voted with finality to affirm the senator's detention would be banned from entering the United States?
A similar proviso on legislation here would never be passed, Lacson added.
But opinion within the Senate was split down political lines, with De Lima's Liberal Party colleagues praising the US senators, and those allied with the administration condemning their interference.
Some called for retaliatory measures against the US senators; others denounced Leahy's move to link American assistance to the Philippines to the resolution of the De Lima case.
This division along political lines is telling.
Beyond the opposition Liberal Party and its allied rights groups, there has been no groundswell of support from the public to free De Lima, for the simple reason that few see her as the courageous champion of democracy and human rights that she portrays herself to be—and who the US senators believe her to be.
But these same US senators were not here when De Lima, as Justice secretary, defied the Supreme Court and disregarded its orders, so that she could throw into detention her former boss, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on charges the state failed to prove in the four years she was detained.
These same self-righteous US senators were silent when the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recognized that the charges against Mrs. Arroyo—initiated by De Lima–were politically motivated and that her detention for four years was arbitrary and illegal under international law.
The US senators, who refuse to accept the legitimacy of our court system, do so without knowing all the facts and with only a little knowledge—and that, as we know, is a dangerous thing.