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MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday, August 18, prevented a delegation of US lawmakers from visiting former senator Leila de Lima in her detention area in Camp Crame.
PNP Public Information Office chief Brigadier General Roderick Alba told Rappler that the visit of the American government officials was denied by the PNP headquarters support service: “They came but the Visitation Access was denied by Hq Support Service of the PNP.”
The US delegation included Senator Edward Markey, and Representatives Alan Lowenthal, John Garamendi, Don Beyer, and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen.
Among the reasons the PNP gave for stopping the US lawmakers, was their lack of court permission and the prevailing COVID-19 situation inside Camp Crame. The PNP statement said there were 15 active COVID cases inside the police general headquarters.
De Lima has been detained inside the PNP Custodial Center since 2017 for alleged drug charges.
The PNP statement said their support service was “prepared to present a briefing for the visiting delegation.”
“The PNP will extend utmost courtesy and assistance to a foreign delegation from the US Senate that will check on the conditions at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, consistent with existing guidelines and procedures on visitorial privileges in the detention facility,” the police said.
The national police said that visitors’ interaction with a person under police custody was subject to the permission of judicial authorities.
“However, such accommodation excludes direct interaction with any Person Under Police Custody confined in the detention facility, particularly PUPC committed by the Court to PNP custody. Such interaction with any specific PUPC is subject to express permission of the concerned judicial authorities, with due consideration of the prevailing COVID-19 situation in Camp Crame that currently has 15 active cases and one new case as of today.”
De Lima has yet to issue a statement.
On Thursday night, US embassy spokesperon Kanishka Gangopadhyay confirmed Markey was leading a congressional delegation in Manila, but declined to give details on any possible visit to De Lima.
“The delegation met with Secretary of Justice Remulla and President Marcos today, and is meeting with legislators from the Philippine Congress this evening. The delegation’s meetings will continue tomorrow,” Gangopadhyay said.
US support for De Lima
Markey was among authors of a US Senate resolution which condemned the continued detention of De Lima, denounced the Philippine government for its role in extrajudicial killings seen in the Duterte government’s drug war, and called out the harassment of the media in the Philippines, particularly of Rappler’s Maria Ressa.
The resolution angered former president Rodrigo Duterte, who previously barred Markey from visiting the Philippines.
Then-US president Donald Trump approved in 2019 the United States’ 2020 budget with a provision to ban the entry to the US of people involved in De Lima’s detention. A year later, US Senator Richard Durbin reiterated his call to release De Lima and said her case was an ‘”important test” for the country’s democracy.
In May this year, the US senators renewed their calls for De Lima’s release. – With reports from Sofia Tomacruz/ Rappler.com