‘Diplomatic push’ eyed for De Lima’s release as case reaches US Senate anew
MANILA, Philippines — A “diplomatic push” is being eyed for the release of Senator Leila De Lima as the case of her detention again surfaced in the United States Senate during a budget hearing.
During Thursday’s U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs hearing on the budget request of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for next year, Senator Richard Durbin asked USAID Administrator Samantha Power if she is familiar with De Lima, who has been detained for five years.
Power answered in the affirmative, recalling writing a piece on De Lima when the Philippine senator was listed in Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2017.
“She’s been imprisoned five years, [President Rodrigo] Duterte’s vengeance against her politically, now a new regime is on the way, is there anything more we can be doing to help her?” Durbin asked Power.
In response, Power said that an incoming administration provides a “very good” opportunity for a “diplomatic push” for the release of the Philippine senator.
“I think with a new government that itself wasn’t invested in the prior decision to arrest Madam De Lima, it seems like a very good occasion to make a diplomatic push and that I think the ones that are the most effective are executive and legislative branches together operating in unison. So we can follow up on that,” said Power, who also served as Washington’s top diplomat in the United Nations under the Obama administration.
Durbin has repeatedly called for De Lima’s release together with other U.S. senators.
In 2019, Durbin, together with Senator Patrick Leahy, introduced an amendment to a budget bill that would deny U.S. entry to any Philippine official involved in the “wrongful imprisonment” of De Lima.
This earned the ire of Duterte, who ordered that Durbin and Leahy be denied entry to the Philippines, with then presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo calling the two U.S. senators “imperious, uninformed and gullible American legislators.”
De Lima has been detained at the custodial center at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City since February 2017 over what she has repeatedly branded as “trumped-up” drug charges against her.
Recently, two witnesses recanted their statements linking De Lima to the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.
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