MANILA – Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday slammed a United States Senate panel for “intruding” into Philippine affairs by approving an amendment to a bill that would effectively deny entry to any Philippine official involved in the 2-year detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.
US Sen. Dick Durbin on Twitter lauded the Senate Appropriations Committee for passing an amendment in the 2020 state and foreign operations appropriations bill, which he filed with US Sen. Patrick Leahy in connection to what he dubbed as the "politically motivated" detention of De Lima.
Sotto, an administration ally, however, said US lawmakers should not meddle in Manila’s affairs as they do not know De Lima’s case fully.
“Mga pakialamero. Hindi naman nila alam ang kaso (They are meddlers. They don’t even know the case). She (De Lima) is innocent until proven guilty but those US senators are not judges here in the Philippines,” Sotto said in a statement.
Lacson, for his part, said Durbin and Leahy’s proposal does not make sense.
“Does it mean that all the witnesses who have testified against Sen. de Lima, DOJ prosecutors who found probable cause, the RTC (regional trial court) judges who issued the warrants, even the 9 SC (Supreme Court) justices who voted with finality to affirm the detention of Sen. de Lima will be banned from entering the US?” Lacson said.
“I don't think our own legislature, no matter the perceived weaknesses and flaws we may suffer from, won't even consider conducting a committee hearing in case a legislator will file a bill of similar nature.”
De Lima’s fellow minority senator, Francis Pangilinan, welcomed the development in the US Senate, adding it should not be equated to interference.
“Human beings everywhere -- regardless of ethnicity, nationality, class, religion, or gender -- must speak out against mass murder,” Pangilinan said.
“We welcome this move of the US Senators, an act of solidarity not only for Sen. Leila de Lima, but for all the murdered victims, and their orphans, widows, and mothers and fathers, who are now doubly burdened by the absence of a loved one and in many, many cases a family breadwinner.”
Durbin was among 5 US senators who earlier called on the Duterte administration to release De Lima, a fierce critic of President Duterte's anti-narcotics drive.
Malacañang, meanwhile, blasted the move as a "brazen" attempt to intrude into the Philippines' internal affairs, saying it treats Manila as an "inferior state."
De Lima has been detained since February 2017 for allegedly pocketing drug payoffs from convicted crime lords when she was still justice secretary — an allegation she dubbed as "political persecution" because of her staunch opposition to the government's drug war.
De Lima, 60, is not entitled to bail and if found guilty, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.