Human rights experts have urged the United States to look at a United Nations report from 2018 that would help pinpoint which Philippine officials should be sanctioned by Washington for the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.
A provision in Washington’s new spending law tasks US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to apply penalties against PH officials under the Global Magnitsky Act, which includes preventing them from entering and freezing their assets in the country, ABS-CBN reported Friday.
A group of human rights experts working with the UN had called for de Lima’s release in 2018, concluding in a report that the detention of the vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte over illegal drug charges was arbitrary.
But lawyer Tony La Viña, a member of the Committee for the Freedom of Leila De Lima, said naming specific individuals behind the arrest and “wrongful imprisonment” of the senator should be based on “credible information,” according to the US law’s provision.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman’s claim that there is an “extrajudicial killing” of press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte’s watch is “nonsense,” Malacañang said Friday.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the executive branch preferred to ignore Lagman’s allegation rather than give him media mileage.
“We will not respond to another nonsense from him. Those issues have been bled dry by rambunctious critics like him, and have been responded to before,” Panelo said.
Lagman also insisted that the issue involving the renewal of the franchise of a radio-television network involves press freedom. He said “the grant of a congressional franchise to a radio and/or television network does not reduce press freedom to an ordinary privilege subject to the unfettered discretion of the State.”
Lagman made the statement in view of the looming expiration of the franchise to operate of the radio-television network ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.
“It is utter myopia to conveniently distance from the exercise of press freedom the issue on the renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN Corporation, which will expire on March 30, 2020,” Lagman said.
Since the sanctions were attached to Washington’s spending law, the State Department was 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,” La Viña told ABS-CBN News.
“It’s not rocket science to know this. But who’s responsible… is something that’s left to the executive branch to determine,” he added.
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 the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.”
De Lima’s criticism of President Duterte’s war on drugs “triggered measures of reprisals against her,” the group said, citing the Justice department’s 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 the 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 US state department to sanction Philippine officials.
“I do not think so,” he told ABS-CBN News, insisting that De Lima had been accorded due process and that the Supreme Court had affirmed her arrest.
The working group report said 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 two 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 of that? I am not even with the Department of Justice prosecuting it or investigating the same. How can there be credible information with respect to me, assuming even that there is a wrongful detention?” he said.