Duterte spokesman says U.S. senators fighting for Ressa and de Lima shouldn’t intrude in PH affairs

Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, and jailed Senator Leila de Lima. Photo of Ressa by George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News
Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, and jailed Senator Leila de Lima. Photo of Ressa by George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News

None of your business.

That’s essentially what Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo told United States senators today for filing a resolution last week urging the Philippine government to drop its charges against jailed Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa.

In a statement released today, which appeared on the social media channels of government-owned television network PTV, Panelo slammed the five U.S. senators and called their resolution an “unwelcome intrusion” into the Philippines’ legal processes.

Panelo, who also works as President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief legal counsel, said that the senators’ resolution was “an outrageous interference with our nation’s sovereignty” because both de Lima and Ressa’s cases were already being heard by the courts.

The five U.S. senators who are at the receiving end of Panelo’s rebuke are Edward Markey (Massachusetts, Democrat), Marco Rubio (Florida, Republican), Richard Durbin (Illinois, Democrat), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee, Republican) and Chris Coons (Delaware, Democrat).

In a resolution filed on Friday, the five senators called for the immediate release of de Lima, who has previously criticized Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign. They also said that de Lima’s imprisonment for drug-related cases was arbitrary and called for reparations and an investigation as to why she was jailed.

De Lima was jailed for drug-related charges in February 2017. She has been accused of receiving money from drug dealers back when she was Department of Justice secretary. In an interview with Al Jazeera, the senator said the charges were “total, absolute lie[s] and fabrications.”

The five also condemned what they said was the harassment of Ressa and told the Philippine government to drop all charges against her. They also said the government should let the local media operate freely.

The embattled Ressa has been facing a slew of charges including tax evasion and cyber libel. She said that the charges were politically-motivated due to Rappler’s strained relationship with Duterte.

At the same time, the lawmakers also condemned the Duterte government’s bloody drug war, specifically the role of the police and other persons in what they described as “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings.”

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), 5,176 drug suspects have been killed in anti-drug operations ever since Duterte assumed office in July 2016. The PNP said many of those killed allegedly fought back when police tried to arrest them, although the public has grown increasingly skeptical of this excuse. The Commission of Human Rights said in December that the number of deaths could be as high as 27,000.

In his statement, Panelo said that the Philippines is not part of the U.S. and that its lawmakers are disrespecting Filipinos by filing their resolution.

“The Republic of the Philippines is not under the dominion of the United States of America or any of its high-ranking officials. The U.S. senators’ resort to a reckless and unstudied political exercise only highlights their unfamiliarity with the domestic matters of our country as well as their disrespect to the clamor of the Filipino people for law and order,” Panelo said.

Panelo also denied that the government is supporting extra-judicial killings. He said that last week’s dismissal of a policeman who allegedly killed a man during a police operation and the conviction of the three cops who killed Kian De los Santos are proof that the government does not tolerate abusive members of the PNP.

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