US Senate passes resolution urging sanctions on De Lima jailers

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
US Senate passes resolution urging sanctions on De Lima jailers
The US Congress meets at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
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MANILA, Philippines — (Update 2, 6:07 p.m.)  The US Senate has passed a resolution condemning the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and that also calls on US President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on government officials linked to her arrest and detention.

Senate Resolution 142, entitled "A resolution condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila De Lima, calling for her immediate release, and for other purposes" was submitted by Senator Ed Markey in April 2019 and was passed "with an amendment and an amended preamble by Voice Vote," according the website of the US Senate.

Invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, the resolution also calls for sanctions for "members of the security forces and officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings" and calls for the Philippine government to free De Lima from what the Senate recognized as "a wrongful detention."

Simple resolutions express the sense of a chamber of Congress. They do not require the president's signature and do not have the force of law. 

Included in the language of the resolution is a provision calling "on the President of the United States to impose sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act" on "members of the security forces and officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings and...officials of the Government of the Philippines responsible for orchestrating the arrest and prolonged detention of Senator De Lima."

The Global Magnitsky Act gives the US executive branch the authority to impose travel restrictions and financial penalties on those deemed to be human rights violators anywhere in the world.

The penalties called for in the resolution include the barring of entry and the freezing of assets of De Lima's detainers. 

The US Senate is also calling on the executive branch to make sure that assistance provided to the Philippine National Police "is fully consistent with the human rights conditions mandated" in the US Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

The US Senate, in its resolution, also urges the Phiippine government "to recognize the importance of human rights defenders and their work and allow them to operate freely without fear of reprisal" and "to guarantee the right to the freedom of the press, and to drop all the charges against Maria Ressa and Rappler."

The government has treated similar calls as a form of meddling in Philippine affairs and says these are based on political propaganda against the Duterte administration.

Sotto: Seems like a Bill of Attainder

Reacting to the resolution's passage on Thursday evening, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said, "I'd like to think [members of the US Senate] are misinformed because it's an affront to our Justice System. It appears to be a violation of their Constitution regarding the Bill of Attainder."

A bill of attainder is a legislative act that singles out an individual or group for punishment without a trial. Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the United States holds that "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law will be passed."

US jurisprudence holds that the clause "was intended not as a narrow, technical (and therefore soon to be outmoded) prohibition, but rather as an implementation of the separation of powers, a general safeguard against legislative exercise of the judicial function or more simply — trial by legislature."

Reacting to a provision attached to the US budget law for 2020 that also mentioned De Lima and that banned her jailers from entering the United States, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said that the US government, particularly its State department, has a procedure to follow on determining who to ban from the US.

"You have to follow the process. There is a process where before the US State Secretary can ban any person, which of course is a right on the part of the sovereign state, it has to determine whether the information relative to a person being banned is credible or not," he said then.

READ: US State Department has process to follow in ban on De Lima's jailers — Panelo

US budget law 

Adoption of the resolution follows a long back-and-forth between the two governments over a provision in the US 2020 budget bill barring those implicated in De Lima's arrest from entering the United States. 

The provision in the US budget reads:

"The Secretary of State shall apply subsection (c) to foreign government officials about whom the Secretary has credible information (sic.) have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of: [...] Senator Leila de Lima who was arrested in the Philippines in 2017." 

In a recent interview, Panelo slammed the US senators for the resolution, saying they failed to consult with US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim.

"Parang hindi sila nag-aaral (It's like they haven't studied)," he said. "[T]hey don't want to listen to reason."

Panelo added that the resolution was a result of the influence of a third party who was fighting against the administration. 

"I think there is a strong lobby coming from whoever is against this administration. That's usually how it works," Panelo claimed.

De Lima, an opposition senator, is on her third year in detention over what she says are false charges that were purely political in motivation. 

During her time as Commission on Human Rights commissioner, and later as Justice secretary De Lima tried to investigate the existence of the alleged "Davao Death Squad" linked to President Rodrigo Duterte when he was the city's mayor. She has also actively criticized the president's war on drugs. 

'No EJKs'

The Palace has consistently said that extrajudicial killings are not state policy. In multiple briefings, Panelo has also stressed that democracy is flourishing and that the rule of law is alive and well.

The national police has acknowldged the deaths of  over 5,500  "drug personalities" who they say fought back in official police operations.

Yet activist groups and international organizations alike have said that the death toll is as high as 27,000, a claim that the administration staunchly contests. 

According to De Lima's chief media officer in a message to reporters, Ferdie Maglalang, the senator's court hearing scheduled for Friday was cancelled. He did not offer an explanation why. 

In her most recent dispatch from Crame on Thursday, De Lima bemoaned the state of drugs in the Philippines and again asserted her innocence.

"[I]llegal drug operations are continuing as “business as usual, our country is slowly being overrun by hostile foreign interests, and corruption is rampant in the bureaucracy," she said. 

"When the Strong Arm of the State is being used to rewrite the rules, twist the law, and present ever-evolving testimony from perjured witnesses, while at the same time withholding other evidence, the real question that needs to be asked [is,] what Law or what Constitution are you applying and defending?"

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