Engaging the US senators
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Several weeks ago, 12 US senators wrote a letter addressed to President Duterte which was sent to the Philippine embassy in Washington. In their letter, senators Brian Schatz, Robert Menendez, Edward Markey, Christopher Murphy, Marco Rubio, Robert Casey Jr., Bernard Sanders, Richard Durbin, Cory Booker, Christopher Coons, Sherrod Brown and Jeffrey Merkley were inquiring and expressing their concern regarding the cases involving Maria Ressa and Senator De Lima. 

We, naturally, conveyed their letter to the Office of the President and at the same time informed Presidential Legal Counsel and Spokesperson Secretary Sal Panelo, as well as Justice Secretary Menardo Guvarra.

The tone and contents of the letter signed by the 12 US senators was actually the same as the resolution recently filed by five US senators that included senators Rubio, Durbin, Markey, Coons and Marsha Blackburn. This time however, it sounded more like a demand asking for the dropping of cases against Senator de Lima and Maria Ressa. This of course prompted the retaliation and filing of a Senate resolution by Senate President Tito Sotto and senators Ping Lacson and Gringo Honasan rebuking the US lawmakers for “interfering” in a purely domestic issue that is well within the authority of the Philippine government.

The thing is, we already sent the US Senators a comprehensive reply which was as clear as can be. It certainly gave them a more nuanced and thorough understanding of the issues raised. Obviously eight of the 12 saw it that way. Only four came back with a resolution. Political bias, maybe? Who knows? 

But regardless, we continue to engage with as many US senators and congressmen as we can, particularly the Democrats. And more often than not, we are able to explain the situation in the Philippines. Majority of them understand the war against illegal drugs especially in the context of terrorism as seen during the siege of Marawi City in May 2017, where millions worth of illegal drugs were discovered during the cleanup operations conducted by Philippine troops.

We always tell our friends in the US Congress: The relationship between the Philippines and the US is of paramount importance; it is bigger than any one of us. We have such a long history, and this relationship will endure regardless of who occupies the seat of power because it is to both nations’ mutual interest to continue our alliance especially in light of the current security situation in the Asia Pacific region. 

As we explained, the case of Senator De Lima stemmed from a legislative inquiry that prompted the filing of four cases against the senator before the Department of Justice, which in turn conducted a preliminary investigation. Due process was observed, the case is now ongoing with Senator De Lima duly represented by counsel of her choice.  

With regard to Maria Ressa, a libel complaint was filed against her by a private individual who was also exercising his right to seek redress on a perceived violation of his right. She is also facing other complaints and cases, and while some say her situation is an attack against freedom of speech or freedom of the press, many think this is not really the case because there are legal issues involving Rappler, foremost of which is an alleged violation of the constitutional restrictions on foreign media ownership and control.   

The late Philippine STAR publisher Max Soliven, a close personal friend of mine since the early ’70s, was jailed by Ferdinand Marcos because of the relentless criticism he threw at him. Max stood by his political conviction even if he and Marcos knew each other fairly well coming from the northern region of Ilocos. 

When Martial Law was declared, Max Soliven was among the first to be arrested and put in a maximum security cell at Fort Bonifacio with Ninoy Aquino. Max’s arrest was clearly political – he was continuously critical of Marcos in his columns and in his television talk show. 

I visited Max in jail at Fort Bonifacio and continued our friendship long after his release. When he was released, I regularly invited him to our Mandarin Hotel breakfast club even when he was considered an outcast, having been banned from writing and not allowed to travel out of the country. Yet Max never changed his political tune – which is why I truly admire him. He was highly respected among his peers, and I personally saw this at an International Press Institute conference in Vienna where he was given a standing ovation after his speech. I told Max – it was a badge of honor to be jailed for your political views. Maria Ressa’s case is totally different.

Max was a supporter of Cory Aquino, but when the late Louie Beltran wrote a “hyperbolic” column saying Mrs. Aquino “hid under the bed” during a 1987 coup attempt, Mrs. Aquino sued Louie for libel along with Max. Yet Max remained undeterred, continuing to wield the power of his pen, going against those whom he thought were doing the country a disservice with the force of a hurricane. 

For journalists – especially columnists – being sued for libel and incurring the wrath of people is par for the course. Mrs. Aquino was unforgiving but as demonstrated in the libel case against Max and Louie – both were acquitted by the Court of Appeals – the rule of law prevailed. 

Despite the perception of some people that there is political suppression today, I and many others believe that Maria Ressa and Senator De Lima – both of whom I know personally – will have the opportunity to defend themselves and their cases eventually resolved. 

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com


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