U.S. Senator Dick Durbin again urged the Philippine government on Thursday (Manila time) to release detained Duterte opponent Senator Leila de Lima, saying in a speech from the floor of the Senate that it was the “easy and honorable way forward.”
The remarks come some two weeks after Durbin and fellow “imperious” Senator Patrick Leahy first found themselves on President Rodrigo Duterte’s bad side over their roles in pushing through legislation denying Philippine officials entry into the United States if they were found to be involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of politically sensitive individuals — namely De Lima. In retaliation, Duterte ordered the Immigration Bureau to bar Durbin and Leahy from entering the Philippines, and also threatened to end visa-free travel to the Philippines for all American citizens.
The threats, however, appear to have done little to deter Durbin, who even criticized them specifically in his remarks yesterday.
“There is an easy and honorable way forward. The Duterte regime should stop threatening the travel of Americans and so many others who travel between our nations and instead ensure a quick and credible trial for Senator de Lima,” Durbin said in his speech.
“In the end, these will be important tests of whether [the] cherished democratic norms we share with our long-standing Filipino allies will be respected by President Duterte,” he added.
After first slapping Durbin and Leahy with the travel ban, Duterte last week extended the dubious distinction to fellow U.S. Senator Edward Markey, who has similarly said he was unfazed by the president’s “strongman tactics.”
Markey is the sponsor of a separate U.S. Senate resolution which cleared the committee on foreign relations in December calling for the release of De Lima (Durbin and Leahy were co-sponsors), though the government has not explained why its travel ban does not apply to the resolution’s nine other co-sponsors.
The resolution passed on Thursday in a vote following Durbin’s speech. Though it is not legally binding, it urges the U.S. president to invoke the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes the United States to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the country.
The government has yet to comment on the resolution’s passage, but Duterte Spokesman Salvador Panelo has previously lashed out at the U.S.’s alleged “interference” in the Philippines’ “processes as a sovereign estate,” insisting that De Lima’s case was not one of “persecution, but of prosecution.”
De Lima has been imprisoned for more than two years without a conviction over allegations of extortion that have raised eyebrows among rights advocates for their lack of credible evidence. She was arrested after opening a formal investigation into Duterte’s bloody drug war in her capacity as head of the Philippine Senate’s committee on justice and human rights.
Her case is currently before the Supreme Court.
The U.S. measures are just the latest in a steady drumbeat of calls for the senator’s release from various political figures and organizations, both here and abroad.