US senator to Panelo: We respond against Philippine officials who abuse justice system

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 28 2019 04:35 AM | Updated as of Sep 28 2019 11:55 AM

De Lima: Impunity 'may find' end in US

MANILA — A US senator on Friday slammed presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for saying Washington is interfering with Manila's affairs over a proposed travel ban against officials behind the imprisonment of Sen. Leila De Lima. 

"Every year, the United States provides large amounts of aid to the Philippines, and I have supported that aid. I assume President [Rodrigo] Duterte's spokesman who defended the wrongful imprisonment of Senator De Lima does not consider our aid to be 'interfering' in their sovereignty," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a statement to ABS-CBN News.

"Our aid is not a blank check, and when Philippine officials abuse the justice system for the purpose of political retribution, we have a responsibility to respond."

Leahy, together with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, filed an amendment in the 2020 State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill to deny entry of any Philippine government officials involved in De Lima's imprisonment.

The US Senate Appropriations Committee approved the amendment Friday, which states that "the Secretary of State shall apply subsection [prohibition on entry] to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of... Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017." 

Panelo earlier said the US Senate's move is a "brazen" attempt to intrude into the Philippines' internal affairs, saying it treats Manila as an "inferior state."

"It seeks to place pressure upon our independent institutions thereby effectively interfering with our nation’s sovereignty," he said.

"It is an outright disrespect to our people's clamor for law and order. It treats our country as an inferior state unqualified to run its own affairs," he added.

Panelo maintained that De Lima is not a "prisoner of conscience," arguing that her case underwent proper proceedings.

"She is being afforded all her rights to due process and has in fact availed of available legal remedies under our procedural rules," he said.

"We continue to mind our own business, as each nation has enough problems that its government should focus on. We hope that the Senate panel of the United States of America shares the same policy," he said.

De Lima has been detained since Feb. 2017 for allegedly pocketing drug payoffs from convicted crime lords when she was still justice secretary — an allegation she dubbed as "political persecution."

The senator is not entitled to bail and if found guilty, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In comments sent from detention Saturday, De Lima thanks the US lawmakers and other defenders of justice and democracy "for reminding us that the world is still watching.

"The proposal of US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy to impose a visa ban against abusive Philippine government officials is a clear message that impunity, while remaining unchecked in our country, may find an end in the 'home of the brave and the land of the free,'" she said. 

—With a report from TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News