Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Tuesday said American senators should not interfere in domestic politics, especially in the case of Senator Leila de Lima.
“The call of these foreign officials to release Senator Leila de Lima, who is presently facing charges before an independent Philippine court, is a brazen interference into our sovereignty,” Panelo said in a statement.
He said this after American Sen. Patrick Leahy demanded a fair trial for De Lima, a known critic of the Duterte administration.
Senator Richard Durbin was also quoted saying: "The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of these Filipino Americans and so many others who travel between our nations.”
“Their alternative demand to provide the lady senator a fair, speedy and credible trial is totally misplaced because precisely, that is being given her by the hearing court as required by the Constitution,” Panelo further argued.
He said anyone who feels that the constitutional guarantee to a fair trial was being violated “should avail of appropriate remedial measures under Philippine law instead of resorting to unfair publicity stunts.”
Panelo said De Lima violated the country’s “criminal statutes.”
He said Durbin’s remarks were also “misplaced” since Filipino balikbayans “are not covered by our ultimatum should the US Government pursue banning the entry of Filipino officials acting in accordance with Philippine law apropos Senator de Lima's case.”
Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump signed the US government’s 2020 budget, which includes a provision that allows the US Secretary of State to prevent Filipino government officials from entering the US if they have “credible information” on the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.
This prompted Malacañang to ban Durbin and Leahy from entering the Philippines. The government also threatened to impose visa requirements on US citizens. Currently, US citizens are allowed to stay in the country visa-free for 30 days.
“Allegations of violation of human rights on Senator de Lima's case are coming from either absolute ignorance or shameful bias,” Panelo said.
“It is high time for these US Senators to consult their US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Yong Kim who is knowledgeable on our local processes before they start blabbering further nonsense.”
De Lima has been detained since 2017 over accusations that she received money from jailed drug lords while she was justice secretary. De Lima and her supporters have denied such allegations, saying it is a trumped up case that is part of the administration’s political persecution of critics.