British parliamentarians demand Leila de Lima release

Twenty three MPs and Lords across the political parties have signed a letter calling for the immediate release of Senator Leila De Lima. The letter states, “Senator De Lima’s prosecution set the pattern for the silencing of President Duterte’s opponents, in which either trumped up criminal charges or false accusations of involvement in terrorism are brought against them.” The call came following a live webinar event in which UK parliamentarians directly linked up with some of their counterparts in the Philippines.

The event called Defending Democracy in the Philippines marked the fourth anniversary of Senator de Lima’s imprisonment by the Duterte Government, and heard from a number of speakers, including Fhilip Sawali, Senator De Lima’s Chief of Staff; Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party; and former congressman Satur Ocampo. There was a video message to the event from Congresswoman Sarah Elago.

The speakers described how parliamentarians who criticise the Duterte government are subjected to vicious campaigns of vilification by the military and police. This is a part of a widespread pattern of repression against any form dissent and includes increasing attacks on journalists and human rights defenders. These are being made as part of what the Philippines government calls its “counter-terrorism” strategy.

The speakers related how the police post up the names and pictures of those who have criticised the government or who work as human rights defenders and label them as terrorists. These are displayed in police stations and in public places and are posted on social media. This is often the signal either for their arrest by the police, or worse, for their assassination by a death squad.

Another way that the military moves against opponents of the President is to bring trumped up criminal charges against them, usually for very serious offences. Senator De Lima is charged with being a drug lord (her real crime was calling for a senate investigation into thousands of extra judicial killings by the police in Duterte’s so-called “war against drugs”). Congressman Ocampo was in a group evacuating indigenous Lumad children whose school was endangered by military operations, when he was arrested and charged with child kidnapping.

The event also noted recent announcements by the UK Government about cooperating with the Philippines Government on counter-terrorism. Fhilip Sawali made it very clear, there should no export of arms or intelligence equipment to the Philippines by the British Government while the Philippine Government commits large scale human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, and works to undermine democracy, all under the guise of counter-terrorism.

The event was jointly organised by the All party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, the GB Section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and CHRP, and was chaired by the Right Hon Dame Diana Johnson MP.