MANILA – (UPDATED, 4:05 P.M) Members of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), including two Philippine lawmakers, were barred from seeing Senator Leila De Lima in her detention cell at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial center on Tuesday, despite their having gone through the processes required for scheduling visits.
Upon arrival at Camp Crame for their scheduled visit at 1:30 p.m., their vehicle was denied entry to the premises and the lawmakers were told they would not be allowed to visit the senator, who has been detained for eight months due to alleged drug charges, according to a report by the APHR.
The group had applied for formal permission for four lawmakers from Malaysia and the Philippines to visit De Lima and followed all proper protocols, including sending a request letter 10 days in advance. They did not receive any advance warning that they could not see the senator.
The lawmakers from the Philippines were Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, while the members of the Malaysian Parliament were Charles Santiago and Tian Chua.
“The authorities’ decision to deny us access to visit Senator De Lima at the very last minute only furthers the public perception that the Senator is a victim of political persecution by President Rodrigo Duterte,” Santiago, who is also chairperson of the APHR said.
“We reiterate our call for her immediate and unconditional release — she is a prisoner of conscience, jailed for her steadfast defense of human rights and criticism of violations by the Philippine authorities,” he added.
Santiago said the incident “demonstrates the deeply concerning state of democracy in the ASEAN region.”
“Even in the Philippines — previously one of the most open societies in Southeast Asia — the government’s authoritarian restrictions betray a deep fear of legitimate public scrutiny,” he said.