MANILA, Philippines–The Australian parliament has adopted a resolution seeking the immediate release of detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.
In a speech delivered before the Australian parliament on Feb. 18, Chris Hayes of the Australian Labor Party called on the Australian government to “use all its diplomatic measures” in urging the Duterte administration to free De Lima from her detention cell at Camp Crame.
Hayes, who visited the Philippines last year, said De Lima’s predicament was an offshoot of her scathing tirades against the President’s brutal drug war, which had led to the deaths of thousands of drug suspects, mostly small-time users and drug pushers.
Circumventing the law
“The case of Senator De Lima is a clear example of what happens when a government seeks to circumvent the rule of law,” Hayes said in his speech, which was posted on the official website of the Australian parliament.
“Surely, an attack on human rights is an attack on our collective humanity. We must never remain silent when human rights are being attacked,” he told his fellow parliament members.
International rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Forum-Asia, have also called on the government to release De Lima and drop all charges against her, saying they were all politically motivated.
De Lima, Mr. Duterte’s staunchest critic, had been locked up for nearly two years after she was indicted for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade when she was still the justice secretary during the previous Aquino administration.
Hayes noted that the Philippine government made use of “untested statements by convicted drug lords, police officers and prison officials” to bring De Lima behind bars.
According to Hayes, keeping mum on human rights violations would only encourage “those who seek to undermine the human rights principles, structure and democratic institutions that underpin our societies and allow for the creation of strong and inclusive communities.”
“What we must appreciate is that, when the rule of law is being sidelined, we are going to see the curtailment of human rights as an inevitable result,” he said.
Silencing dissenting voices
John Samuel, executive director of Forum-Asia, said in the statement that De Lima’s detention was proof of how far the Duterte administration would go to silence dissenting voices.
“The government’s fabricated charges against her only reflect how compromised its institutions have become under the present administration,” Samuel said.
De Lima was arrested on Feb. 24, 2017, based solely on the testimonies of convicted drug lords.
During her tenure as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima also sought to investigate Davao’s ‘death squads.’
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said that De Lima should be released, since she was detained solely for her criticism of the sitting administration.
“As one of the only leaders bold enough to oppose Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’ she has faced prolonged arbitrary detention,” Bequelin said, adding that De Lima’s detention is a “blatant attempt” to silence her.