US lawmakers meet with detained Philippine opposition leader

MANILA – US Senator Edward Markey, who was once banned from the Philippines by former President Rodrigo Duterte, met on Friday with a long-detained Filipino opposition leader, who he says was wrongfully imprisoned under Duterte and should to be freed.

Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and a group of U.S. lawmakers met with former Senator Leila de Lima for more than an hour in her high-security holding cell at Metro Manila’s main police camp, according to her lawyer, Filibon Tacardon, and police.

Details of their court-sanctioned meeting were not immediately available.

Duterte had banned Markey and two other US lawmakers from traveling to the Philippines after calling for Lima’s release and sounding the alarm about human rights abuses during his presidency. Duterte’s turbulent six-year tenure ended in June.

The former president’s brutal drug crackdown, which left thousands dead, mostly poor suspects, has sparked an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

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Duterte was replaced by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory with his vice president Sara Duterte, the former president’s daughter.

Markey and his delegation met with Marcos Jr. at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila on Thursday. After the meeting, Marcos Jr. said he looked forward “to continuing our partnership with the United States in the areas of renewable energy use, agricultural development, economic reform, and disaster mitigation.” drug problems”.

One of Duterte’s top critics, the 62-year-old de Lima, has been locked up for more than five years and has accused the former president and his then aides of fabricating the drug charges without bail which landed her in jail in February 2017. Her arrest and detention effectively barred her at the time as a senator from investigating the widespread killings as part of Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs.

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Duterte had insisted on her guilt, saying witnesses said she had received payments from imprisoned drug lords. Several witnesses, however, recently recanted their allegations against her, reigniting calls for the Marcos Jr. administration to release her.

De Lima told The Associated Press in March during her first court-authorized prison interview since her arrest that she “cried every day, especially at night, for the first few weeks, not really out of self-pity. -even but for my family and out of disbelief.” She said she later settled down and continued to fight for human rights and the rule of law behind bars.

She has released more than 1,200 handwritten statements daily since her detention, mostly her critical reflections on Duterte’s governance and her reaction to breaking news like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ 2020 US election triumph, which she hailed as a victory of democracy over “fabricated populism”. and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which she called “an act of madness” that put the world on edge.

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She has introduced more than 600 Senate bills and resolutions from prison, many aimed at strengthening human rights and government accountability and reducing poverty. She ran in the May 9 election under the main opposition bloc, but a lower court barred her from participating in the campaign and online debates.

Locked away from the campaign trail, de Lima sent a cut-out photo of herself to appear in her place. Amid her detention, de Leila lost her re-election bid.

Markey, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, renewed his deep concerns about human rights conditions under outgoing President Duterte in a joint statement in June. along with two other US senators.

They said then that the new administration of Marcos Jr. offered an “opportunity to reject the repression of the past, free Senator Leila de Lima and adopt policies that support the rule of law and a free and vibrant press in Philippines”.

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It was not immediately clear whether Markey renewed his call for de Lima’s release during Thursday’s meeting with Marcos Jr. and how the Philippine leader responded.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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