Sotto: US senators meddling in PH affairs without knowing De Lima case
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III brushed aside a proposal by a United States senator to deny entry into the United States Philippine officials who are behind the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, saying that they are commenting on the issue without knowing the case’s details.
“Mga pakialamero hindi naman nila alam ang kaso (They like to meddle but they do not know what the case is about),” Sotto said in a message to reporters on Friday.
“She is innocent until proven guilty but those U.S. senators are not judges here in the Philippines,” he added.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on the other hand sought to clarify whether the proposal means all of the people involved in the case — including members of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges, and witnesses presented — are also banned.
“I can’t make sense of that piece of legislation. Does it mean that all the witnesses who have testified against Sen de Lima, DOJ prosecutors who found probable cause, the RTC judges who issued the arrest warrants against her, even the 9 SC justices who voted with finality to affirm her detention last year will be banned from entering the US?” Lacson asked in a separate message.
“I don’t think our own legislature, no matter the perceived weaknesses and flaws we may suffer from would even consider conducting a committee hearing in case a legislator will file a bill of similar nature,” he added.
On Friday morning, it was reported that the U.S. Senate’s appropriations committee approved the amendment proposed by Senators Richard Durbin and Patrick Leachy. If passed, this would prohibit Philippine officials who allegedly were behind De Lima’s detention, will be barred from entering the U.S.
De Lima’s allies in the Senate meanwhile celebrated the decision, calling it a move in solidarity with the senator.
De Lima is currently detained at the the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame for drug-related charges. She was accused of allowing the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison, an attached agency of the Department of Justice — an office she formerly headed.
However, the detained senator claims that her arrest is merely political vendetta, as she led an investigation on alleged extra-judicial killings in Davao City, back when President Rodrigo Duterte was still the city’s mayor.
When Duterte became President, De Lima was also one of those who criticized the government’s war against illegal drugs.
Lacson meanwhile believes that the chances of the proposal passing through the whole U.S. Congress is “unlikely.”
“Admission into a country is a matter of privilege, not a right. Therefore, in an unlikely scenario that it passes the scrutiny of the entire US Congress and subsequently enacted into law, those who will fall under the classification as mentioned in the bill may have to face the reality that they have to stop thinking of visiting the US,” he explained.
“Having said that, not only a bill of such nature is uncalled for but a clear encroachment of the Philippines’ judicial system,” he added. /muf
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