MANILA -- A group of human rights experts working with the United Nations called for Sen. Leila de Lima’s release in 2018, concluding that her detention was arbitrary in a report, which can now help Washington identify Philippine officials to be covered by targeted sanctions.
A provision in Washington’s new spending law tasks Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to apply penalties against these officials under the Global Magnitsky Act, which includes preventing them from entering and freezing their assets in the country.
But naming specific individuals behind the arrest and “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, should be based on “credible information,” according to the provision.
“It’s not rocket science to know this,” said Manila-based lawyer Tony La Viña, a member of the Committee for the Freedom of Leila De Lima.
Since the sanctions were attached to Washington’s spending law, the State Department is expected to impose them within the year, he said.
“There is no more question about the illegality and the unjustness of the detention. That’s determined already,” he told ABS-CBN News.
“But who’s responsible... is something that’s left to the executive branch to determine.”
Here’s where the report of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention under the UN Human Rights Council comes in.
In 2018, the group of independent human rights experts looked into the situation of De Lima.
The Philippines is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The treaty guarantees that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention” or “shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
Based on its investigation, the working group concluded that De Lima’s “deprivation of liberty resulted from her personal conviction and public statements regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.”
De Lima’s criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs “triggered measures of reprisals against her,” the group said, citing the justice department investigation and her subsequent detention since February 2017.
The senator was tagged in the illegal drug trade at the national penitentiary while she was justice secretary, based on testimonies of convicts who had come forward in a congressional investigation.
The House of Representatives inquiry went as far as revealing her home address and telephone numbers on national TV, leading to a "flood or hate messages and death threats," the working group noted.
The report also cited how some congressmen "asked insulting questions about her personal affairs and threatened to show a fabricated sex video supposedly of her."
Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the UN report could not be used as a source of "credible information" for the state department to sanction Philippine officials.
“I do not think so,” he told ABS-CBN News, insisting that De Lima was been accorded due process and that the Supreme Court had affirmed her arrest.
The working group report said that the senator was the “target of bipartisan persecution.”
In identifying Philippine officials to be sanctioned, the state department can start with the list made public by De Lima soon after US President Donald Trump signed the budget law, said La Viña.
The list includes 11 names led by Duterte, former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Solicitor General Jose Calida, and 2 rabid Duterte supporters on social media.
Panelo said he was not worried that De Lima put him in the list as well, insisting he had nothing to do with her detention.
“How can I be part or that? I am not even with the Department of Justice prosecuting it or investigating the same. How’s can there be credible information with respect to me, assuming even, that there is a wrongful detention?” he said.