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US senator: Duterte sorely mistaken if he thinks he can silence me

One of the US senators who had moved to ban the entry to the United States of Filipino officials involved in sending Sen. Leila de Lima to jail on alleged trumped-up drug charges on Friday said he won’t be fazed by the “strongman tactics” of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had ordered him and two other American lawmakers barred from Philippine soil.

“President Duterte is sorely mistaken if he thinks he can silence my voice and that of my colleagues,” said Democratic Sen. Edward Markey from Massachusetts.

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“He has already failed to silence Senator De Lima, Maria Ressa and others in his country who have spoken truth to power,” he added in a statement on Friday.

Ressa is a journalist and CEO of online news outfit Rappler.

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“I stand with the people of the Philippines and with my state’s vibrant Filipino-American community in fighting for the highest democratic ideals and against the strongman tactics of the Duterte government.”

Banned from entering PH

Two of Markey’s fellow Democratic senators, Patrick Leahy and Richard Durbin, have also been banned from entering the Philippines on orders of Mr. Duterte.

They had filed a resolution in the US Congress last year condemning the Duterte government for the continued detention of De Lima, “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings” in the war on drugs in the country and the arrest of human rights defenders.

The resolution, filed in April 2019, also called on the Duterte administration to release De Lima and withdraw charges against Ressa.

They were joined by nine other senators from both Democratic and Republican parties.

The resolution called on the US President to impose sanctions contained in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which include, among others, the freezing of assets of members of security forces responsible for extrajudicial killings and Philippine officials responsible for De Lima’s “prolonged detention” as well as banning their entry to the United States.

Amendment approval

In December, the US Congress approved an amendment to the US budget, which was introduced by Durbin and Leahy, directing the US Secretary of State to prohibit the entry to the United States of Philippine government officials “involved in the wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.

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Filipino officials said that such moves by the American senators violated Philippine sovereignty and interfered in the country’s judicial process.

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Thursday said “these US senators have been either uninformed or are so gullible to believe in whatever information they receive, whether it’s false or not.”

“The call of these foreign officials to release Sen. Leila de Lima, who is presently facing charges before an independent Philippine court, is a brazen interference into our sovereignty,” he said earlier. “Any undue persuasion that tramples upon our judicial processes or puts any form of tension on the officers of our courts relative thereto must be condemned accordingly by all citizens of this state.”

In retaliation to the US senators’ move, Mr. Duterte ordered Markey, Leahy and Durbin banned from entering the Philippines. He also said Americans would be required to obtain a visa to enter the country, a directive that still has to be implemented.

Another foreign critic

Another foreign critic of Mr. Duterte who has come under attack from supporters of the President was book author Bill Browder.

In a recent Twitter post that triggered the fury of pro-Duterte bloggers, Browder said the Philippine government “is having a full-scale meltdown at the possibility of being sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act for the unjust detention of Sen. Leila de Lima.”

Browder, a political activist and author of the New York Times bestseller, “Red Notice,” had spent a decade campaigning to deny visa applications and freeze the assets of human rights violators across the world.

He was particularly after those responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer and corruption investigator Sergei Magnitsky after whom the US sanctions law was named.

Magnitsky had uncovered a tax fraud scheme linking Russian officials, but ended in jail instead and then beaten to death, according to Browder’s book.

Defending Browder against his critics, De Lima said in a tweet on Friday that the “attacks vs you are proofs that rights abusers in PH have been notified alright.”

“In fact, they’re now erasing their dirty tracks, but the door to the world is closing in on them! Clock is ticking down,” she said.

“It looks like troll armies got their envelopes. Apart from deleting their evil tracks, they are now busy spreading fake news that have long been debunked.” —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH

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TAGS: De Lima, Duterte, Edward Markey, Maria Ressa, US Senator
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