US senator asks Philippine gov’t to free De Lima instead of denying visas to Americans

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 29) — US Senator Patrick Leahy slammed the Philippines’ threat to require visas for US nationals entering the country.

Leahy said that the Philippine government should release detained senator Leila De Lima instead of “irrationally” responding by denying visas to Americans.

“Rather than responding by irrationally threatening to deny visas to American citizens, the Duterte government should either release Senator De Lima immediately or provide her the fair, public trial she is entitled to,” said Leahy in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently ordered the Bureau of Immigration to refuse the entry of Leahy and another US Senator Dick Durbin for proposing the ban from the United States of Philippine officials involved in Senator Leila De Lima's detention.

READ: Gov't bans 2 US senators, threatens to require visa for all Americans

Leahy and Durbin were the American lawmakers who proposed the amendments to the US 2020 national budget which denies Philippine officials behind the arrest of De Lima in 2017 over drug charges.

READ: How the US budget law bans Philippine officials

Reacting to the US senator's call, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Sunday that De Lima's indictment was upheld by the country's high court.

"I wish Senator Leahy and his four other colleagues in the US senate know that much of our constitutional law and rules on criminal procedure had their origin in US law. I also wish they know that Senator De Lima’s indictment was upheld by the Philippine Supreme court and that she has been freely exercising all the rights of an accused in a fair and public trial," he said.

He added, "They also ought to know that Senator De Lima can only be released upon an acquittal, and not at anytime upon pressure exerted by foreign politicians who do not represent the PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES."

In a social media post, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that Leahy should not get himself involved in the case of De Lima.

"NAKAKAPIKON KA NA MR. LEAHY! RESPECT OUR COURTS. OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM MAY NOT BE PERFECT BUT SO ARE YOURS," said Lacson on Twitter.

[Translation: You're getting in my nerves, Mr. Leahy! Respect our courts. Our criminal justice system may not be perfect but so are yours.]

Further, Leahy also defended the embattled journalist Maria Ressa, who is also a critic of the Duterte administration just like De Lima.

“And rather than try to silence a journalist who has bravely dared to expose official corruption and abuse, it should recognize Maria Ressa as a courageous Filipino exercising her right of free expression,” said Leahy.

In a separate statement, the US senator said that he has always “stood up” for journalists’ rights.

“I have always stood up for the right of journalists to report the news in the United States and around the world and no one can force me to stop standing up for their rights,” he said in a social media post.