Malacañang calls resolution ‘misguided’
THE United States Senate on Wednesday, January 8 passed a resolution officially condemning the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for its detention of outspoken Philippine Senator Leila De Lima.
U.S. Senate Resolution 142 argued that De Lima’s detainment was an infringement on the “legitimate exercise of her freedom of speech” and urged the Philippines to release her, as previously reported by the Asian Journal.
The resolution acknowledges the widely-criticized extrajudicial killings, which were “part of a government-directed antidrug campaign” that resulted in “the foremost human rights challenge in the Philippines,” as a valid concern of the disgraced senator who has been detained since February 2017.
Led by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the bipartisan effort to stand up against the Duterte administration’s treatment of De Lima also urged President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against the Philippine government.
The bipartisan group of senators who backed the bill includes Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Durbin said that De Lima should be given a fair trial, adding that to do so would be an “important test” of Philippine democracy.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, January 9, Durbin also referenced internationally-celebrated Rappler chief Maria Ressa, who has also been a victim of the Duterte administration for her coverage on the anti-drug campaign.
“In the end, [De Lima’s] freedom and the end of government harassment against journalists like Maria Ressa will be important tests of whether cherished democratic norms we share with our long-standing Filipino allies will be respected by President Duterte,” Durbin said.
Duterte administration responds
Malacanang fired back against the U.S. senators on Friday, January 10, claiming the senators were basing the resolution on “bogus narratives” and relying on arguments promoted by Duterte’s “usual antagonists.”
“While the Philippine government continues to respect the U.S. Senate as an institution, the Palace finds the posture and conviction of its prejudiced members misguided,” Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesperson, said in a statement that also called the U.S. Senate’s “latest actions” as “a form of bullying on the part of a particular institution of a foreign country.”
“If and when these calls materialize, the Palace considers the same as a direct and shameless affront against the Republic of the Philippines, which has long ceased to be a colony of the United States of America,” Panelo said.
The resolution’s official passing in the U.S. Senate adds another layer to the months-long riff between the two countries regarding the Philippines’ treatment of the Duterte administration’s critics.
Previously, the Philippine Bureau of Immigration announced that U.S. Sens. Durbin and Leahy would be denied entry to the Philippines. This was a retaliation for a ban on U.S. entry by Philippine officials directly involved with De Lima’s detention.
In addition to the ban on U.S. senators, Philippine officials also threatened to impose visa restrictions on Americans if the U.S. enforces its ban on Philippine officials.
“There is an easy and honorable way forward,” Durbin said in response to the threats. “The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of Americans and so many others who travel between our nations and instead ensure a quick and credible trial for Senator De Lima.”