MANILA was up in arms Friday over a European Parliament resolution calling for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima from detention, with Philippine officials condemning it as an unwarranted intrusion into internal affairs.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd led the charge and told European Union (EU) lawmakers to “mind their own business.”
“The EU Parliament should know its place in the world. It has no right to manage Philippine affairs, much more no right to micro-manage our country,” Pimentel said in a text message to reporters.
De Lima, jailed last month on what she claims were trumped-up drug trafficking charges based on testimonies of prison inmates that she accepted drug money when she was Justice secretary in the previous administration, is one of President Rodrigo Duterte’s leading critics.
In September 2016, Duterte’s Senate allies stripped her of her chairmanship of the Senate justice committee following her probe into alleged summary killings in connection with the government’s bloody drug war.
The EU Parliament took note of de Lima’s ouster, to which Pimentel responded: “Please mind your own business and don’t ever tell the Philippine Senate on who should chair any of its committees.”
Last week, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, during a visit to Manila, told reporters the 28-nation bloc could trigger a review of trade agreements with the Philippines if a death penalty bill hurdles Congress, and if summary killings continue unabated.
Particularly at stake is the duty-free access of Philippine goods to the EU through the Generalized System of Preferences Plus or GSP+ program.
In a separate statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) indicated that EU lawmakers relied on inaccurate information, and said the resolution “cast aspersion on Philippine legal processes, its judicial system and the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution to uphold and protect the rights of all individuals.”
“While we recognize the independent standing of the European Parliament within the EU system, resolutions that are crafted by its members of Parliament must necessarily possess unimpeachable standards, given the extremely sensitive topic of human rights. It is important that the elected members exert all efforts to secure more accurate information on resolutions, in order to avoid the impression of interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign non-EU countries,” the DFA said.
It told the EU Parliament that the pillars of the criminal justice system remain to be effective and well-functioning in the Philippines, “not only for Senator de Lima but for all.”
Members of the European Parliament or MEPs on Thursday called “for the immediate release of Senator Leila M. De Lima and for her to be provided with adequate security whilst in detention.”
They also strongly condemned “the high number of extrajudicial killings by the armed forces and vigilante groups related to the anti-drug campaign.”
The MEPs said they felt “grave concern over credible reports to the effect that the Philippine police force is falsifying evidence to justify extrajudicial killings,” the resolution added.
The resolution was adopted in a plenary sitting by the European Parliament, which noted that EU-Philippines ties go back to 1964, when the bloc was still known as the European Economic Community.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said those who have been pushing for the European Parliament resolution for de Lima’s release have a “misunderstanding of what’s happening to [her].”
“The lady is being charged with crime – not political persuasions,” Abella said. “So I think they ought to respect that.”
“On the possible loss of zero tariffs, we urge the European Parliament to reconsider its decision as we remind everyone, including international bodies, to allow us to deal with our domestic challenges without unwarranted foreign interference,” Abella said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo likewise denounced the EU Parliament resolution. “That is a clear foreign intrusion…they can not interfere with our country’s affairs,” Panelo said during a radio interview.
“They cannot dictate on the Philippine government on what to do with its constituents facing criminal charges nor can they interfere with the judicial processes of our country. Neither can they demand our government the performance of an act. That is foreign interference. They should mind their own business,” he added.