The Philippines on Friday slammed a U.S. Senate resolution that called on the government to free a detained critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, saying it was based on erroneous information.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, hit out at the U.S. Senate foreign relations committee for what he said was an act tantamount to stepping onto the country’s internal policy after it also imposed sanctions against officials found to be involved in the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.
“What I don’t understand is they appear not to understand the judicial process of this country in relation to Senator de Lima,” Panelo said in a statement, referring to the U.S. senators.
“They should study what judicial process we have,” he said. “They should not also take seriously what they read in the newspapers or letters from anybody that cites Sen. de Lima is being persecuted. It’s not true.”
The American lawmaker who introduced the resolution, Sen. Ed Markey, appeared to have been “misled” by propaganda from Duterte’s political opponents, Panelo said.
De Lima has been a staunch critic of the government’s war on drugs, which was launched nationwide shortly after Duterte became president in 2016. She is under detention while awaiting trial on charges that she took advantage of her position as justice secretary and led a drug ring in the nation’s largest prison.
The resolution, which is to move to the full senate for consideration, states that the U.S. Senate “considers Sen. de Lima to be a prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression.”
Official police statistics show almost 7,000 suspected addicts and dealers have been killed during the past three years in what authorities had described as gunfights during legitimate anti-narcotics operations. Human rights organizations have estimated thousands more were killed.
De Lima has debunked the allegations against her, saying her detention was political payback for questioning Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign.
The U.S. Senate committee’s resolution 142, which was passed on Dec. 11, seeks to bar entry of “Philippine officials and security forces responsible for extrajudicial killings in the Philippines” and those behind De Lima’s detention.
The U.S. senate committee also called on the Philippine government to guarantee freedom of the press and drop all criminal charges against Maria Ressa, the founder of online news portal Rappler.
Ressa and Rappler have been critical in reporting on Duterte’s drug war. She has been arrested on charges linked to misrepresentation of tax returns and foreign ownership of Philippine media.
‘Undue interference,’ Philippine envoy says
Jose Manuel Romualdez, Manila’s Ambassador to Washington, also hit the U.S. legislators for their resolution, saying their action could be interpreted as "undue interference" in the country's domestic affairs.
He said the cases against Ressa and De Lima were being handled “in accordance with Philippine laws and processes” and that the Philippine embassy remains open to discuss the matter openly with U.S. lawmakers should they request to do so.
“Senate Resolution 142,” he said, “calls on the Philippine government to pursue actions that undermine the rule of law, which is the very principle that the United States professes to uphold and stand for.”
In a statement in February this year, the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch also urged the government to drop the charges against De Lima, describing them as politically motivated.
“The arbitrary detention and mistreatment of de Lima is emblematic of the deteriorating situation for all human rights defenders in the Philippines,” it said, referring to De Lima’s work when she was chairwoman of the Philippine Senate committee on justice and human rights.