Sotto slams US senators over ‘Leila’ ban

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Sotto slams US senators over âLeilaâ ban
Senate President Vicente Sotto III turned the tables on the American officials, asking them what if Philippine lawmakers seek to ban American officials involved in US President Donald Trump’s impeachment probe.
Vicente Sotto FB Page

MANILA, Philippines — Senators lashed back at their United States counterparts for interfering in Philippine affairs by seeking to prohibit entry to the US of Philippine government officials involved in the imprisonment of Sen. Leila de Lima.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III turned the tables on the American officials, asking them what if Philippine lawmakers seek to ban American officials involved in US President Donald Trump’s impeachment probe.

“How would that senator feel if we filed a resolution here saying we will bar entry to the Philippines of those who will impeach Trump?” Sotto said in Filipino at a forum in Quezon City.

“They are meddlers,” he added.

The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives announced it is poised to launch a formal inquiry on Trump’s effort to seek Ukraine’s help to smear former vice president Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Sen. Richard Gordon likened the US senators’ effort to interfere in Philippine affairs to China’s bullying.

“Yeah I think so, it’s like China bullying us,” said Gordon in an interview over radio dwIZ.

Gordon pointed out that the wheel of justice in the Philippines is grinding, especially so in the case of De Lima, who has been locked up on illegal drug charges. He, however, said de Lima can be visited and allowed to have her lawyers.

“First of all, that’s interference. I’m not siding with anyone. We have working courts. You can post bail and have a lawyer. Why are you meddling?” Gordon said in Filipino.

Gordon expressed belief that issues in the Philippines are being exploited by the American senators to get media mileage for the upcoming elections in America.

“That’s explosive because there will be elections there. What’s happening is the Democrats are trying to do everything,” he added.

Sotto clarified that US senators may have been fed with wrong information.

“I’m not saying that I am for or against Senator de Lima but as I’ve said, she is innocent until proven guilty. But you cannot have a US senator judge the case. It’s so out there, maybe they think we’re still a Commonwealth,” Sotto said.

Two US senators – Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy – proposed an amendment to a bill seeking to ban Philippine government officials involved in De Lima’s indictment and detention, which they believe was politically motivated.

The US Senate appropriations committee approved their proposal.

Under the bill titled “Prohibition on Entry,” the US Secretary of State “shall apply sub-section (c) to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of… Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017.”

Even opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives have voiced their disapproval.

Minority leader and Manila 6th district Rep. Benny Abante said the decision of members of the US Senate appropriations committee was an attack on the country’s sovereignty.

“Whatever one’s position on the detention of Sen. de Lima, one cannot countenance what is a blatant attempt to interfere in our legal processes and meddle in our affairs,” stressed the head of the 28-member minority bloc in the lower house.

“This is highly irregular, especially because the trial is ongoing and the judges are still hearing the case. These US senators are essentially telling the judges that if they find Sen. de Lima guilty, they will be barred from entering the United States,” Abante pointed out in a statement yesterday.

This position echoed the position of the Palace that such a move was an interference and an insult to a sovereign state.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. yesterday prodded the courts handling the drug-related cases of Sen. de Lima to speed up her trial.

“Is there no way to move her trial along, like pronto?” Locsin asked over his Twitter account.

Locsin, who is a lawyer, hinted that De Lima’s legal team could be contributing to the delay in her trial.

“Or her lawyers filing one motion to postpone after another?” he continued on the same post.

Locsin noted that the plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo “took 6 years to get nowhere only to be thrown out by the Supreme Court as garbage.”

“Judicial process is supposed to be a moving thing,” he said.

De Lima has been detained since February 2017 at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame over the alleged proliferation of illegal drugs inside the New Bilibid Prison during her term as justice secretary. She has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying charges against her are trumped-up. – With Edu Punay, Jess Diaz

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