U.S. senator urges PH to free De Lima, drop threats vs Maria Ressa

MANILA, Philippines – United States Senator Patrick Leahy was undeterred by recent threats from the Philippine government to bar him from entering the country, as he vowed to remain firm in standing up for the human rights of detained Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

Leahy was responding to President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to get back at him and US Senator Richard Durbin after they pushed for a US entry ban on Philippine officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

In addition to the ban targeting the senators, Philippine officials threatened to enforce visa restrictions on "Americans" if the US government enforces the ban.

"Rather than responding by irrationally threatening to deny visas to American citizens, the Duterte government should either release Senator De Lima immediately or provide her the fair, public trial she is entitled to," Leahy said in statement on Sunday, December 29.

What prompted the ban? In a move described by Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr as "tit for tat," Duterte ordered the Bureau of Immigration to deny entry to Leahy and Durbin in retaliation for sanctions that barred Philippine officials involved in De Lima's case from entering the US.

The provision to deny entry to Philippine officials was included in US 2020 State Department budget signed by President Donald Trump last December 20.

Go deeper: Leahy has been a consistent champion of human rights, speaking out against the detention of de Lima, the harassment of Ressa and Rappler, and extrajudicial killings seen in the Duterte administration's controversial anti-illegal drug campaign.

"I have always stood up for the right of journalists to report the news in the United States and around the world and no one can force me to stop standing up for their rights," Leahy tweeted on Sunday.

He added, "Rather than try to silence a journalist who has bravely dared to expose official corruption and abuse, it should recognize Maria Ressa as a courageous Filipino exercising her right of free expression."

Leahy likewise reiterated the call to uphold human rights in the Philippines as he reminded the Duterte administration that "the imprisonment of Senator De Lima, and the threats against renowned journalist Maria Ressa, have been criticized around the world, including by the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations."

Meanwhile, Durbin has led several efforts by US lawmakers to exact accountability from Philippine officials who have violated the human rights of De Lima and EJK victims.

Most recent of these efforts includes his part in filing US Senate resolution 142, which condemned De Lima's imprisonment and the harassment of media – particularly Ressa and Rappler.

The resolution likewise invoked the Global Magnitsky Act, which is the US' law that gives its executive branch the power 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

 

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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