Philippines-US relations

US lawmakers meet with Marcos, other gov’t officials, before dropping by De Lima

Jairo Bolledo

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US lawmakers meet with Marcos, other gov’t officials, before dropping by De Lima

DETAINED. File photo of former senator Leila de Lima.

(1st UPDATE) The US delegation's visit pushes through after the PNP prevented it from visiting De Lima inside Camp Crame on August 18
US lawmakers meet with Marcos, other gov’t officials, before dropping by De Lima

MANILA, Philippines – After a series of “friendly” meetings with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his allies, United States lawmakers on a visit here were finally able to pay a call on former opposition senator Leila de Lima in her detention area inside the general headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The De Lima visit by the US government officials on Friday, August 19, comes a day after they were denied by the PNP, which asked them to get prior permission from the court.

The American delegation was led by Democratic Senator Edward Markey.

Markey and his congressman companions on Thursday were already near the entrance of the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, where De Lima is detained, when they were stopped. Aside from requiring permission of court authorities, the PNP also said there were 15 active COVID-19 cases inside Camp Crame.

It was unusual that the PNP asked for a court order before visiting the detained former senator. Previously, the PNP Custodial Center had jurisdiction over visit permissions.

De Lima has been detained inside the PNP Custodial Center since 2017 for alleged drug links.

The visit of the US delegation pushed through after the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 granted De Lima’s request to allow the American officials to pay her a visit.

Before meeting with De Lima, the US delegation visited the President and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Thursday. They also met with House Speaker Martin Romualdez.

“US Delegation Head Sen. Edward John Markey listens as Speaker Martin G. Romualdez bares in his speech that he sees US-PH close and friendly ties will remain strong under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.,” tweeted the House of Representatives.

De Lima’s explanation

In a statement on Saturday, August 20, De Lima hit the delay and said “somebody” in the Marcos administration was worried about her meetings with foreign officials. 

“For some reason, somebody even in this administration is still worried about me meeting with high-level foreign delegations concerned about my plight as a prisoner of conscience, more than a month after Duterte has already left Malacañang,” De Lima said in her handwritten statement. 

She added: “That this administration or somebody in this administration would unnecessarily risk a minor diplomatic fray just to continue Duterte’s policy of persecution is beyond me. It simply makes no sense. It has accomplished nothing but to embarrass the Marcos Jr. administration for no reasonable gain at all, except perhaps to endear itself to my persecutors.”

In her letter, De Lima explained that her camp and the US lawmakers had made prior communication with the PNP for the visit. She said the US embassy made a request through a note verbale to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which the latter endorsed to the PNP. 

De Lima said she sent a separate letter addressed to the PNP chief to signify her conformity to the visit.

“I felt that it was clearly a case of unfairly changing the rules in the middle of the game,” she said. “What happened was that the PNP unilaterally and unceremoniously decided to require a court order for the visit without prior due notice whatsoever either to me or the US lawmakers.” 

The former senator noted that the PNP’s guidelines and procedures on persons under its custody do not require a court order. 

Court order

The court allowed the delegation to visit De Lima on Friday, from 9 am to 12 noon. Among the conditions given by the court were that no video or audio recording would be allowed, and the visitors would follow the PNP’s guidelines.

In the court order, De Lima told RTC Branch 204 that the visit was prearranged and coordinated beforehand with the PNP through a letter her camp sent on August 10. However, despite follow ups, “the PNP has not timely responded to the request.”

The order added that Markey sent a letter to PNP chief Police General Rodolfo Azurin Jr., conveying their request to visit De Lima on August 18. RTC Branch 204, however, noted PNP’s Memorandum No. 2018-027, which laid down the guidelines in visiting a person under police custody under the PNP Custodial Center.

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PNP prevents US lawmakers from visiting De Lima in Camp Crame

PNP prevents US lawmakers from visiting De Lima in Camp Crame

“A foreigner national who wishes to visit a PUPC shall submit a letter of intent to the Chief, PNP at least 2 weeks in advance. The letter of intent must be endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) upon note Verbale from the concerned Embassy. The request shall include the purpose, itinerary, basic biographical information and a copy of valid IDs/passport (colored copy).”

Markey was among the authors of a US Senate resolution, which condemned the arrest of De Lima. The same resolution also denounced former president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and the harassment of media in the Philippines, particularly of Nobel Peace prize laureate and Rappler’s CEO Maria Ressa.

The resolution angered Duterte, who previously barred Markey from visiting the country. In May this year, US senators renewed their calls for De Lima’s release. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.