Palace slams 'grandstanding' US Senator Sanders for comments on human rights abuses in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 18) — Another United States lawmaker has criticized the Duterte administration, and Malacañang is not taking it sitting down.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Sunday hit US Senator Bernie Sanders for saying there are "abhorrent human rights abuses" in the Philippines, following the simultaneous arrest of members of progressive groups.

"Senator Sanders is grandstanding on an issue he obviously does not know the details of, not to mention meddling in our national affairs, which he has no business over," Andanar said in a statement.

Sanders reacted to an article by the International Trade Union Confederation, which highlighted the alleged police repression of Filipino trade unionists. It noted the arrest of 57 people, including 13 minors, who were nabbed in the regional offices of progressive group Bayan Muna and other militant groups in cities of Bacolod and Escalante. Thirty one activists were eventually released from prison “for lack of probable cause.”

Sanders, who is also a 2020 US presidential candidate, tweeted on November 15, "In recent years, we have seen abhorrent human rights abuses by the Philippine government. This repression of trade unionists is a shameful attempt to silence people's rights and freedoms. More than ever, we must stand on the side of global human rights."

The article also mentioned about the "broader climate of government repression in the Philippines," citing the bloody war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Andanar denied all the accusations, saying the arrests remained peaceful and no one was hurt.

The Cabinet official also reminded foreign lawmakers to avoid falling for "false narratives spread by those who want to bring the government down."

Sanders is the latest US lawmaker to call out the Duterte administration. In April, US Senators Edward Markey, Marco Rubio, Richard Durbin, Marsha Blackburn, and Chris Coons filed a measure seeking to drop the charges against detained Philippine Senator Leila De Lima and journalist Maria Ressa — both critics of the administration. In September, a U.S. Senate committee has approved an amendment to a bill that seeks to ban Philippine officials involved in the continued detention of de Lima from entering the North American country.