US Senate panel's call for De Lima release could put PH-US ties at risk, Malacañang says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 14) — Malacañang has hinted that the country's ties with the US could be jeopardized by a US Senate panel's approval of the resolution calling for detained Senator Leila de Lima's release.

The measure, passed by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on December 11, condemned De Lima's continued detention and urged the Philippine government to "immediately release" her. It also called for the dropping of charges against online news platform Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, in a statement on Saturday, called US Senate Resolution 142 as a "brazen and heedless affront against the dignity not only of the Philippine Government but of our country’s sovereignty as well."

Panelo, who is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, said the courts "independently found probable cause" against both De Lima and Ressa, emphasizing that their criminal cases had nothing to do with their criticisms of President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies. He said American lawmakers should be objective and respectful of the country's judicial processes.

"We call on these US senators to remove the blinders in their eyes and look at the De Lima and Ressa cases not with jaundiced eyes but with studied objectivity and cautious discernment," Panelo said.

If things do not change, Panelo said the Philippines' relationship with its long-standing ally could take a hit.

"We hope that probing and educated minds will ultimately prevail and that such misguided and intrusive act shall not tarnish nor diminish the warm relations between our two countries," Panelo said at the end of his statement.

De Lima, meanwhile, said the "strong, and resoundingly unanimous and bipartisan support" for her by the international community "is further proof of the fakeness of the charges against me."

"These top US policy and law makers from both the Democratic and Republican parties, who have access and are privy to critical and confidential information affecting US relations with other countries, would not set aside their political differences and unanimously go out on a limb to support me, and stake their reputation, if they harbored even a hint of doubt about my innocence," she said in a separate statement.

De Lima has been detained since 2017 for allegedly abetting illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary during her term as Justice Secretary under the previous administration. She denied the charges and accused the government of fabricating the cases against her.

Earlier, the US Senate's Appropriations Committee approved the proposal to deny entry to Philippine government officials behind De Lima's "wrongful detention." Malacañang also dismissed it as an affront to Philippine sovereignty, while senators even suggested slapping US officials with a similar ban for interfering in the country's internal affairs.

READ: Robredo says US has right to bar PH officials behind De Lima’s detention