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Palace call US Senator Patrick Leahy ‘ignorant’

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Sunday hit back at US Senator Patrick Leahy, whom he called "ignorant" of Philippine criminal procedures.

"(T)he good US Senator is ignorant of our procedural rules subjecting a person charged with the commission of a crime," Panelo said in an emailed statement.

Leahy, along with US Senator Dick Durbin, filed an amendment that would prohibit the entry of any Philippine government officials involved in the imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima into the United States.

"Every year, the United States provides large amounts of aid to the Philippines, and I have supported that aid. I assume President [Rodrigo] Duterte's spokesman who defended the wrongful imprisonment of Senator De Lima does not consider our aid to be 'interfering' in their sovereignty," said Leahy in a report by ABS-CBN News.

"Our aid is not a blank check, and when Philippine officials abuse the justice system for the purpose of political retribution, we have a responsibility to respond," he elaborated.

De Lima, a member of the opposition, has been a critical of the administration's bloody war on drugs. In 2017, she said she was prepared to be the first "political prisoner" of the Duterte administration.

The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court in February 2017 ordered De Lima to be detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center inside Camp Crame in Quezon City, for her supposed involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice secretary.

In response, Panelo on Sunday defended de Lima's arrest and detention, claiming that due process was accorded to the Philippine lawmaker.

"For the enlightenment of Senator Leahy, there would been abuse in the case of Senator De Lima if she was formally charged without the existence of a probable cause and if she was arrested without a warrant of arrest or if a warrant of arrest was issued by a judge without a finding of probable or if during the preliminary investigation she was not afforded the opportunity to submit countervailing evidence in her behalf," said Panelo.

"The constitutional requirement of due process accorded any accused has been observed. De Lima’s cry of political persecution echoed by her supporters is the convenient refuge of political chameleons who change their beliefs at will to suit their political agenda," he added.

In the same statement, however, Panelo conceded that grants are not a form of interference.

"Giving aid or grants is not a form of sovereign interference. They are given by a state to another by reason of comity and friendship. The Philippines welcomes them," he said.

However, Panelo argued that such grants which come with attached conditions were an anathema to the very purpose of such generosity, which the government rejected.

"They cloth the donor the authority as well as the gumption to meddle into our internal affairs thereby trampling our sovereign rights," said Panelo.

"We remind Senator Leahy that the Republic of the Philippines is not a vassal nor a colony of America. It is an independent state that is fiercely protective of its sovereignty and subservient to no other country."

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month ordered a halt to all negotiations and agreements with 18 countries that in July approved a resolution to compile a comprehensive report on the administration's war on drugs. — Jon Viktor Cabuenas/DVM, GMA News