US Senate committee backs resolution in support of De Lima, Ressa

Sen. Leila De Lima | photo

Palace claims senators were ‘misled’

THE United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week passed a resolution calling on the Philippine government to release Sen. Leila de Lima from prison and drop the charges against Rappler founder Maria Ressa.

Senate Resolution 142 declared De Lima a “prisoner of conscience, detained solely on account of her political views and the legitimate exercise of her freedom of expression,” and urged the Philippine government to release her.

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 on reported drug trafficking charges.

U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) authored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Illinois), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware).

The resolution, which was filed in April 2019, also called the arrest of Ressa for libel and tax-related charges “part of a pattern of ‘weaponizing the rule of law’ to repress independent media.” Ressa, a staunch critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, has posted bail eight times and has been arrested twice in the period of five weeks.

It further called on the Philippine government to drop all charges against Ressa and De Lima and allow the senator to “fully discharge her legislative mandate especially as Chair of the [Philippine Senate] Committee on Social Justice.”

The resolution also requested that U.S. President Donald Trump “impose sanctions,” such as revoking U.S. visas and freezing assets on security forces and officials responsible for drug-related killings and De Lima’s arrest and detention.

The move “demonstrates broad support for accountability” in De Lima’s case and with others, Markey said.

“For over 1,000 days now, [De Lima] has languished in prison. Her crime: standing for human rights and good governance in the Philippines. Today’s passage of my resolution…demonstrates broad support for accountability in her case and with others,” the American senator said in a tweet on Thursday, December 12.

The Philippine Embassy in Washington called the resolution “ultimately unhelpful,” saying it could be interpreted as posing undue interference in the Manila’s affairs.

“We note the sentiments contained in Senate Resolution 142. As close, treaty allies that seek to address common challenges, the Philippines and the United States should focus on what they can do together, including capacity-building for the criminal justice system and related institutions,” it said in a statement.

It added, “Senate Resolution 142 is ultimately unhelpful in this regard not only because it may be potentially interpreted as posing undue interference in our domestic affairs, but more importantly, because it calls on the Philippine government to pursue actions that undermine the rule of law, which is the very principle that the United States professes to uphold and stand for.”

The embassy also reiterated that the cases of De Lima and Ressa are “being handled in accordance with Philippine laws and processes, and that we remain open to engaging with U.S. lawmakers and other stakeholders on this matter.”

Malcañang on Friday further responded to the American legislators’ move, calling it “biased.”

“Apparently they have been misled by the reports coming from the opposition, as well as media outlets who had been biased against the administration,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in an interview on CNN Philippines. 

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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