SEATTLE, Washington — On April 4, 2019, Sen. Ed Markey [D-MA] introduced S.Res.142, which condemns the Philippine government for arresting and detaining human rights advocate Sen. Leila De Lima, a prominent opposition leader, as well as other human rights violations. On Dec. 11, 2019, the Committee on Foreign Relations, where the resolution was assigned, ordered the resolution to be reported to the Senate with amendments. S.Res. 142 was agreed to in the Senate by a voice vote on Jan. 8, 2020 with an amendment and an amended preamble.
Human Rights Abuse in the Philippines
The human rights violations in the Philippines to which the resolution refers include extra-judicial killings as a part of the government’s “war on drugs.” Sen. Leila de Lima, one of the Duterte regime’s staunchest critics, was arrested in February 2017 when she sought to investigate these killings. Since then, De Lima has been detained at the headquarters of the Philippine National Police on politically-motivated charges, according to many human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. President Duterte has attacked Senator De Lima and other human rights defenders for speaking out against his administration.
Duterte’s administration has also attacked journalists, perhaps most notably Maria Ressa, the CEO and editor of the news website Rappler. Ressa, who has published investigative stories about Duterte’s war on drugs, has faced several lawsuits some of which threaten to shut down her website. Both of these cases, along with a public “smear campaign” launched against Vice President Leni Robredo are examples of the misogynistic way Duterte has targeted his repressive policies.
S.Res. 142 addresses these human rights violations. It demands the immediate release of De Lima and recognizes that her detention is “based solely on her criticism of the Government of the Philippines, her political beliefs and her peaceful defense of human rights.” The resolution acknowledges the numerous arrests of Maria Ressa and notes that many organizations and governments view these arrests “as part of a pattern of ‘weaponizing the rule of law’ to repress independent media.”
In response, the resolution condemns the Philippine government for its role in extrajudicial killings as a part of the ‘‘war on drugs,’’ its arrest and detention of political leaders and human rights advocates who express their free speech and its harassment of journalists and the media. S.Res. 142 asks the U.S. president to impose sanctions in accordance with the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act on members of the security forces and officials of the Philippine Government who are responsible for state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings and government officials responsible for the prolonged detention of De Lima.
The Philippine Government’s Response
In response to its calls on the Philippine government to release De Lima, the Duterte regime has banned multiple Senators from the country including Edward Markey, author of S.Res. 142, as well as Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez warned U.S. Senators that there would be grave consequences if these senators continued to demand De Lima’s release. He said the Philippines would be terminating the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. Romualdez said in late February 2020, that the Philippines would not release her and that the U.S. Senators’ demands that it do so are a violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty.
S.Res.142 condemns the government of the Philippines for its “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings,… detention of human rights defenders and Sen. Leila De Lima and its harassment of journalists.” It calls on the White House to take action against members of the Philippine government for human rights violations. The resolution passed on Jan. 8, 2020.
– Sarah Frazer