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Panelo hits U.S. senators for 'absolute ignorance, shameful bias' over De Lima case

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo doubled down on his criticism of United States senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin over their recent remarks related to the case of opposition senator Leila de Lima, who is detained due to drug charges.

In a statement on Tuesday, December 31, Panelo said allegations of human rights violations in the handling of De Lima's case "are coming from either absolute ignorance or shameful bias."

Panelo then suggested that Senator Leahy (from Vermont state) and Durbin (from Illinois) "consult their US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim who is knowledgeable on our local processes before they start blabbering further nonsense."

Both US senators have called on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to release De Lima immediately or provide a fair, credible trial for her. 

Durbin also said on Tuesday that the Philippine government "should stop" the threat of retaliatory visa restrictions against US citizens, saying it is an "insult" to the Filipino American community and the country's democracy." (READ: Duterte holds his tongue on proposed U.S. travel ban vs officials in De Lima detention)

Panelo reiterated that their demand for De Lima's release from detention "is a brazen interference into our sovereignty." (READ: What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war

"Their alternative demand to provide the lady senator a fair, speedy and credible trial is totally misplaced because precisely, that is being given her by the hearing court as required by the Constitution," he said.  

Any party who feels otherwise "should avail of appropriate remedial measures under Philippine law instead of resorting to unfair publicity stunts," Panelo added. 

As for Durbin, Panelo said his remark was also "misplaced," because Filipinos in or traveling to America "are not covered by our ultimatum should the US government pursue banning the entry of Filipino officials."

"At any rate, imposing requirements in securing a visa to foreign nationals prior to entry into the Philippines is an exercise of a sovereign right and is not an insult to any particular community," he added. "In fact, they have been requiring Filipinos to secure a US visa before we can travel into their homeland. As the community of nation[s] believes in, 'diplomacy is equality.'"

On December 20, US President Donald Trump signed his country's 2020 budget law that contained a provision wherein Philippine officials who were involved in De Lima's detention will be banned from entering the United States. US senators Leahy and Durbin pushed for the ban's inclusion in that law.

The Duterte administration responded by barring Leahy and Durbin from entering the Philippines. – Rappler.com