Sotto, Go suggest ban on US officials for 'meddling' in De Lima case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) — Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and colleague Christopher "Bong" Go criticized their US counterparts for their proposed ban on Philippine officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

Go said he will suggest that President Rodrigo Duterte also bar from entering the country US Senators Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy for "interfering in our internal affairs."

Durbin and Leahy initiated the amendment to a bill that would prohibit those behind De Lima's "wrongful imprisonment” from setting foot in America. Durbin, who has been calling for De Lima's release, announced Friday that a US Senate committee has approved their proposal.

Speaking at the commemoration of the Balangiga encounter in Tacloban City on Saturday, Go said the US lawmakers' move "unduly pressures our independent courts and disrespects the entire judicial process of the Philippines by questioning its competence."

"These senators must also be banned from entering the Philippines," the former Special Assistant to the President said. 

This was the same idea floated by Sotto during a media forum in Quezon City on Saturday.

"Ano kaya ang pakiramdam ng senador na 'yun kung may mag file ng resolution dito na sabihin na huwag papasukin sa Pilipinas lahat ng mag-i-impeach kay Trump?" Sotto said. "Pakialamero eh!"

[Translation: What would that senator feel if someone files a resolution here that bars those involved in Trump's impeachment from entering the Philippines? What a meddler.]

The US House of Representatives announced this week the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump for supposedly abusing his power for political gain. Trump is accused of using $400 million in military aid to force Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential foe in the 2020 presidential polls.

Sotto reminded the US Senate that the Philippines is no longer its commonwealth, adding that the Philippines "cannot have a US senator judge [De Lima's] case."

He stressed is not "for or against" his detained colleague, but she should be deemed innocent until proven guilty.

De Lima in a statement thanked the US senators for their work, saying it sends a "clear message that impunity, while remaining unchecked in our country, may find an end in the home of the brave and the land of the free."

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A staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug war, De Lima has been detained since 2017 for allegedly abetting illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary during her term as Justice Secretary under the previous administration. She has maintained her innocence and accused the government of fabricating the cases against her.

CNN Philippines' Crissy Dimatulac contributed to this report.