MANILA – The Supreme Court has declared legal the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima due to her involvement in illegal drugs, President Rodrigo Duterte told the United States (US) on Wednesday.
Duterte issued the statement during the oath-taking of the new officials of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as he slammed the US senators’ persistent calls to release de Lima, who they believed was a victim of political persecution.
“They were demanding that we release de Lima. Si de Lima, dumaan ng imbestigasyon (her case underwent investigation) and the investigation was brought to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not everything was in order. And the Supreme Court Court said it is,” he said.
Duterte was referring to SC’s April 2018 ruling, which affirmed its earlier decision on the constitutionality of de Lima’s arrest in connection with drug-related charges against her.
De Lima is currently detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City due to her involvement in rampant narcotics trade inside the national penitentiary during her stint as Justice secretary.
Reiterating that the US Senate’s interference in de Lima’s case prompted him to terminate Manila’s Visting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington, Duterte lamented that the Philippines is being pictured as a state that is “incapable of administering justice.”
“We were pictured to have persecuted – not prosecuted – and committed a grave injustice to a certain person. I’m referring to de Lima,” Duterte said.
Duterte also slammed the US anew for imposing a travel ban on Philippine officials linked to de Lima’s arrest and detention.
He said he would not let a foreign country like the US mock the Philippines with a “knee-jerk” reaction.
“Hindi mo pwedeng laruan ang Republika ng Pilipinas (You cannot play with the Republic of the Philippines) with a knee-jerk reaction. It’s always what is good for our country,” he said.
Duterte reportedly topped the list of personalities de Lima wanted to be banned in the US for her detention.
De Lima already submitted to the US government the list of people who will be denied entry to the US for their supposed role in de Lima’s “wrongful imprisonment.”
Unfazed by the US’ travel ban, Duterte maintained that he has no plan to visit the US.
“They asked a hypothetical question: ‘If you are invited to the United States, will you go?’ No. And the same question was repeated many years after. My answer still, no. Hindi ako pupunta doon (I will not go there),” Duterte said.
Duterte earlier received an invitation from US President Donald Trump to attend the Southeast Asian leaders’ summit in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, but the former refused to fly to Washington.
He rejected Trump’s invitation following the demand of the US Senate to release de Lima.
This was followed by Duterte’s decision to terminate VFA, an agreement signed in February 1998 which sets conditions for the conduct of visit of US troops in the Philippines.
Duterte insisted that the Philippines can stand alone without the help of the US.
“Do we need America to survive as a nation? Do we need America now to fight a rebellion in our entire country? Do we need their arms?” he said. “And the military and police said, “Sir, kaya natin (we can do it alone).”
The VFA expires 180 days after the Philippines sent a formal termination notice to the US on February 11. (iam/sovereignph.com/PNA)