MANILA, Philippines – US Senator Richard Durbin doubled down on his call to give detained opposition Senator Leila de Lima a fair trial, saying it would be an "important test" of democracy in the Philippines.
Delivering a speech before the US Senate, the Senate Democratic Whip once again urged the Philippine government to release De Lima or give her due process rather than threaten Americans with visa restrictions.
"There is an easy and honorable way forward. The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of Filipino-Americans and so many others who travel between our nations and instead ensure a quick and credible trial for Senator De Lima or simply do the right thing and release her," Durbin said.
"In the end, her freedom and the end of government harassment against journalists like Maria Ressa will be important tests of whether cherished democratic norms we share with our long-standing Filipino allies will be respected by President Duterte," he added.
Duterte's threats: Durbin's remarks are the latest after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to bar him and two other US senators from entering the Philippines, in retaliation for a US entry ban on Philippine officials involved in the detention of De Lima. Durbin, along with US Senator Patrick Leahy, pushed for the ban which was included in the US State Department's 2020 budget.
In addition to the ban targeting the senators, Philippine officials threatened to enforce visa restrictions on "Americans" if the US government enforces the ban. Durbin had described the threat as an "insult" to Filipino-Americans and Philippine democracy, while Leahy said the move was "irrational."
Durbin's latest speech showed that US lawmakers continued to keep watch of De Lima's case as well as cases on government harassment of media in the Philippines.
Durbin's record: The US senator has long drawn attention to cases of political prisoners around the world, particularly of journalists and activists who have been detained for "defending basic democratic freedoms." This includes the disappearance and brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey.
In the case of the Philippines, Durbin has led several efforts of US lawmakers to exact accountability from Philippine officials accused of violating the human rights of De Lima, extrajudicial killings in Duterte's landmark anti-illegal drug campaign, and involvement in the crackdown on press freedom.
Most recent of these efforts was his part in filing US Senate Resolution 142, which condemned De Lima's imprisonment and the harassment of media – particularly Rappler CEO Ressa and Rappler. (LIST: Cases vs Maria Resa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)
The resolution likewise invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, which is the US law that empowers its executive branch to impose visa and travel restrictions and financial sanctions on human rights violators anywhere in the world. The resolution has yet to be adopted by the US Senate. (READ: What we know so far: Proposed U.S. sanctions vs PH officials in drug war – Rappler.com