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Malacañang slams U.S. senators for 'interfering' with PH sovereignty

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang bristled at the call of 5 United States senators to drop all charges against Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, declaring it a form of "interference."

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo called the resolution filed by the senators an "unwelcome intrusion to the country’s domestic legal processes" and an "outrageous interference with our nation’s sovereignty."

"No government official of any foreign country has the authority or right to dictate on how we address the commission of crimes," he said in a statement on Monday, April 8.

The 5 US senators were Edward Markey (Massachusetts), Marco Rubio (Florida), Richard Durbin (Illinois), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Chris Coons (Delaware). They had filed a bipartisan resolution condemning the human rights violations in the Philippines and calling the charges against De Lima and Ressa "unconscionable."

Panelo called the resolution a "reckless and unstudied political exercise" and advised the American lawmakers to "mind their own business."

In a press briefing on Monday, he said the US senators can probe the controversies "silently" and that the Duterte government would respond to whatever queries they would have.

"They can do it silently if they really want to find out. If I were a US senator, I would probbly do some probing myself. I'm sure they have friends in the Philippines, friends in the media who are objective, not biased," said Panelo.

Earlier in March4 US congressmen also urged the Philippines to release De Lima, and slammed the arrest of Ressa.

In defense of the Duterte administration, Panelo reiterated the government's claims that due process and fairness were observed in the cases against De Lima and Ressa since they were being dealt with by Philippine courts.

De Lima has been in jail for more than two years over charges she facilitated illegal drug trafficking inside prisons. She has denied the accusations, first publicly floated by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Before being charged in court, she was a fierce critic of the President, conducting Senate inquiries into extrajudicial killings linked to Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs.

Meanwhile, Ressa was arrested twice, in February and in March, over cyberlibel charges and for allegedly violating the Anti-Dummy Law. Rappler has so far posted  P2 million in bail and travel bonds over 7 court charges filed against the media company since 2018. (READ: LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)

The cases began after Duterte falsely claimed that Rappler was "fully owned by Americans" in his State of the Nation Address in July 2017.

Rappler has reported extensively, and unflatteringly, on Duterte's deadly illegal drug crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives and which rights groups say may be a crime against humanity. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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