4 US lawmakers call on Pompeo to press for justice in Ressa, De Lima cases during visit
MANILA, Philippines – Four members of the United States Congress have urged U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo to press for justice for Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa and detained Senator Leila de Lima during his visit to the Philippines.
In a letter dated February 28, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel along with three ranking members of the U.S. Congress urged Pompeo to raise U.S. concerns about the “assault on civil society, media freedom and human rights” by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte during his trip to Manila.
They specifically urged Pompeo to “press for justice” for the cases of Ressa and De Lima.
“We urge you to raise U.S. concerns about the Duterte government’s assault on civil society, media freedom, and human rights at every opportunity during your February 28 to March 1 trip to Manila, and to specifically press for justice in the cases of Maria Ressa and Senator Leila De Lima,” the letter read.
The concerned U.S. congressmen noted how Ressa was arrested for cyber libel charges on February 13 while De Lima spent her second year in incarceration for drug-related charges.
“President Duterte has in the past made clear his disdain for journalists and even warned that reporters are legitimate targets for assassination,” the letter read.
“More broadly, Duterte has systematically worked to silence domestic dissent,” it added.
They also made note of how Ressa’s arrest is yet another example of the efforts being done by the Duterte administration to “crackdown on the freedom of the press and speech and to intimidate others from speaking truth to power in the Philippines.”
The concerned American congressmen added that the two nation’s “mutual respect for democratic norms and universal human rights” is central to the U.S.-Philippine alliance, noting how the attacks by President Duterte on the institutions that underpin democracy in the Philippines is “concerning.”
While they appreciate the U.S. State Department’s condemnation of Ressa’s arrest, they said the U.S. “must not be silent in the face of democratic regression in the Philippines.”
Pompeo arrived at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City around 9 p.m. on Thursday. He was welcomed by the President and several members of Cabinet.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said Pompeo and the President had a “very productive meeting” on Thursday night, reaffirming the two nation’s friendship and alliance.
Pompeo is set to visit the Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday to meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.
Pompeo’s visit to the Philippines comes amid Duterte’s engagement in warm bilateral ties with China despite China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea. /muf
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