By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang expressed concern about the decision of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to approve the resolution calling for the release of detained Senator Leila de Lima, saying it was a “headless affront” to the Philippines’ dignity and sovereignty.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo made the statement after the US Senate panel passed Senator Ed Markey’s resolution entitled “Condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima, calling for her immediate release, and for other purposes.”
In a statement, Panelo said the Duterte administration viewed the resolution with “grave concern” as there was no reason for them to meddle in the affairs of another sovereign nation.
“It is a brazen and heedless affront against the dignity not only of the Philippine Government but of our country’s sovereignty as well. It is an undisguised and outrageous intrusion to a sovereign state,” he said Saturday.
“There can be no excuse for the US Senate Committee not to know that the Philippines has long ceased to be a colony of the United States,” he added,
US Senate Resolution 142 stated that de Lima, who was arrested on drug charges in February 2017, was “a prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.”
The said resolution also called on US President Donald Trump to “impose sanctions” against Philippine officials responsible for De Lima’s arrest. These sanctions include the freezing of their assets in the United States.
It also condemned the alleged extrajudicial killings linked with President Duterte’s drug war, detention of human rights defenders, and the harassment against and arrest of journalists particularly against online news outfit Rappler and its Chief Executive Officer Maria Ressa.
In his statement, Panelo reiterated that both de Lima and Ressa were facing criminal prosecution for transgression of Philippine laws, and assured the US Senate Committee that the two were being accorded procedural due process in all stages of their criminal prosecution.
“In every stage of the proceeding, both exercised their constitutional right to due process and to competent counsel of their choice. They continue to avail of all available legal remedies for their defense,” he said.
“Based on the evidence culled, the investigating public prosecutors found probable cause to file criminal charges against them. Thereafter, the courts independently found probable cause to proceed with their cases and issue warrants for their arrest,” he added.
The Palace official explained that Ressa was given provisional liberty by the hearing court while de Lima’s continued detention remained on account of the nature of the crime she was charged with. He added that de Lima remained behind bars because of the gravity of the crimes on illegal drugs charged against her.
Panelo said the Palace expected that US Senators would be familiar with the justice system in the Philippines considering that the protection and limitations of the rights of an accused are also inscribed in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to their Constitution.
Freedom of expression
Panelo reiterated that the cases against de Lima and Ressa absolutely have nothing to do with their political views on the Duterte Administration.
“The record shows that no one has been hailed to court on account of one’s exercise of the freedom of the speech and of the press,” he said.
“The text of Resolution No. 142 reveals the prejudice upon which the good US senators based their conclusion on the situation in our country, which has absolutely no basis in fact nor in law,” he added.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel called on US senators to “remove their blinders” and look at the de Lima and Ressa cases “not with jaundiced eyes” but with studied objectivity and cautious discernment.
He also called for them to respect the judicial processes of the Philippines like how the country respects theirs.
“Among sovereign states, there must be equal and mutual respect. Intrusion on the sovereign rights of independent countries is abhorrent in civilized societies and anathema to international order,” Panelo said.
“While we continue to respect the US Senate as an institution, we, however, will not allow our sovereignty trampled upon by a few of their members. We hope that probing and educated minds will ultimately prevail and that such misguided and intrusive act shall not tarnish nor diminish the warm relations between our two countries,” he added.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, on the other hand, said that there was no need for the Philippine government to bother with the said resolution.
“We continue our good relations with the United States and our independent foreign policy. But, the government sees no point to give attention to an ostensible move by people who have little knowledge of the real matter at hand,” he said.