U.S. senators urge Philippines to drop charges vs De Lima, Maria Ressa

MANILA, Philippines – Five United States senators urged the Philippine government to drop the charges against jailed Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, in a resolution filed this week.

US senators Edward Markey (Massachusetts), Marco Rubio (Florida), Richard Durbin (Illinois), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), and Chris Coons (Delaware) have filed a bipartisan resolution condemning the human rights violations in the Philippines.

"The Senate calls the government of the Philippines to immediately release Senator De Lima, drop all charges against her, remove restrictions on her personal and work conditions, and allow her to fully discharge her legislative mandate, especially as Chair of Committee on social justice," the resolution read.

"[It] urges the government of the Philippines to guarantee the right to the freedom of the press, and to drop all the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler," it added.

In a statement Friday, April 5, the US senators said they "hold allies accountable" for the shared commitment to democratic values.

"The Duterte government in the Philippines continues to chip away at respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights," Durbin said.

"This bipartisan resolution condemns their government’s troubling behavior and calls for the release of political prisoners, including Senator de Lima, and journalists who have been imprisoned under bogus charges," he added.

The resolution condemned the Duterte administration's campaign against illegal drugs or the "War on Drugs", as well as the arrest of human rights defenders and political leaders. (READ: The Impunity Series)

"The ongoing extrajudicial killings and meritless imprisonment of Senator de Lima and Ms Ressa are unconscionable," Blackburn said.

"This bipartisan resolution makes it clear that while we value our relationship with the Philippines, the US Congress expects to see real change to the current practices of the Duterte government," she added.

De Lima, a fierce critic of the Duterte administration, has been imprisoned for over two years now over drug charges, which she said were fabricated by the government. (READ: De Lima in jail: 'I never imagined Duterte would be this vindictive')

Meanwhile, Ressa was arrested twice, in February and in March, over charges on cyberlibel and for allegedly violating the Anti-Dummy Law. She has since been released after posting bails worth P190,000 just for these two cases.

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

All in all, Rappler has been asked to pay a total of P2.036 million in bail and travel bonds as of March 29, 2019, covering Ressa, managing editor Glenda Gloria, 5 members of the 2016 board, and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr.

After Ressa's arrest, Washington has urged Mania to quickly resolve the case against her and allow her and news site Rappler to "operate freely."

Earlier in March, 4 US congressmen also urged the Philippines to release De Lima, and slammed the arrest of Ressa. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.