De Lima: U.N. support for rights groups in PH 'indispensable'
MANILA, Philippines – Detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Friday, September 27, urged United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to continue highlighting attacks against human rights defenders in the Philippines, saying his support for rights groups was "undeniably indispensable."
"Being at the helm of the UN with authority to steer the agenda of the whole organization, your voice for the cause of human rights, in general and the human rights situation in my country in particular, is undeniably indispensable to pave the way for the protection, promotion and fulfillment of all human rights for all," De Lima said in a statement.
The senator made the remarks come after a report by Guterres drew attention to her detention, which has been deemed "arbitrary" and "politically motivated" by several UN special procedures mandate holders.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNHRC-WGAD) earlier called for De Lima's immediate release and to probe her detention.
De Lima's detention was included among "acts of intimidation" seen in the Philippines against human rights defenders who have cooperated with the UN and its representatives.
Other acts included allegations of reprisals against Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon and previous efforts by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to declare 600 persons as "de facto terrorists" upon the declaration of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army as “terrorist” organizations. The DOJ has since trimmed down its list to 8 individuals as the case remains pending.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, however, tossed aside the report, calling it "shoddy work" that should be ignored.
Right to criticize: De Lima, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, pointed out it was "plainly wrong" for the Philippine government to admonish the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies for expressing concern or issuing their opinions on her detention.
The Duterte administration earlier hit recommendations calling for De Lima's release, saying it was "improper" for external groups to intervene in the "independence and impartiality of the [Philippines'] judicial process." Philippine officials have also repeatedly slammed calls for De Lima's release as "intrusions" on the country's sovereignty.
“Based on its response, the Philippine government continues to disregard the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the call of several special procedures mandate holders for my immediate and unconditional release,” she said.
In separate letters, De Lima thanked Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and UNHRC President Coly Seck for their concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.
"Filipinos are encouraged and strengthened by the support of the international human rights community that continues to issue opinions, reports and advisories on the Philippine human rights situation and let its voice heard and heard loudly by all the peoples of the world," she said.
Prior to her arrest in 2017, De Lima had been conducting Senate hearings on Duterte's alleged involvement in death squads in Davao when he was mayor, and extrajudicial killings. The opposition senator has since been imprisoned for over two years now over drug charges, which she asserts were fabricated by the government. (READ: De Lima in jail: 'I never imagined Duterte would be this vindictive') – Rappler.com