ASEAN human rights delegates barred from visiting De Lima

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The ASEAN Parliament for Human Rights (APHR) delegates today were barred from visiting Senator Leila M. de Lima in her detention center in Camp Crame despite having complied with a 10-day visiting notice.

APHR’s Tian Chua and Charles Santiago, who came to the Philippines from Malaysia specifically to meet with De Lima, expressed disappointment over being denied the chance to speak with the Senator.

“Seeking an appointment with a fellow legislator who has now been incarcerated and is in detention is something that we want to do, and not allowing us to visit her actually further affirms our beliefs that she is unjustifiably detained, otherwise the government doesn’t have to worry about this,” Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament, said in an interview.

“I and my colleagues are very disappointed that our entry was not granted despite us giving an ample notice before the visit,” Chua, also a member of Malaysian Parliament, added.

Chua and Santiago, along with fellow APHR members, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. and AKBAYAN Rep. Tom Villarin, waited outside the custodial center for an hour hoping that a decision to grant their entry would be issued.

While the parliamentarians have submitted their request as early as Sept. 6, which is compliant with the 10-day visiting notice, police officers maintained the request has not yet been granted. The authorities however failed to give an exact reason for the delay of issuing the permit.

Chua said the decision to prohibit him and his colleagues from visiting De Lima only shows that the administration is bent on prohibiting international organizations to show their support to the Senator.

“We believe that if the authorities have nothing to hide, and if the authorities are doing things according to the principle of transparency, then we should not be denied from interacting and paying our visit to show our regards to her,” Chua said.

On the purpose of visiting De Lima, Chua said: “our intention was to come here to express our solidarity with her, and as a fellow legislator in another ASEAN country, we believe that she’s innocent and her persecution is part of the intimidation campaign against her, which violates her rights as a legislator.”

Chua added: “we find her detention unjustifiable given she’s a representative doing her work. She is now in jail and for standing up against [the policies] of President Duterte, so therefore, we are here to express our solidarity with her.”

Chua and Santiago also affirmed their position to call for the immediate release of De Lima, saying that the Senator should be given her freedom “without any conditions attached to it.”

This is not the first time that an international visitor was barred from visiting the Senator. Last July, Liberal International (LI) president Juli Minoves was also prevented from seeing De Lima due to an “administrative excuse.”

De Lima, a “prisoner of conscience,” is in detention for trumped-up drug charges fabricated by the Duterte administration but she continues to fulfill her Senate duties by filing bills and resolutions.

Several international organizations, including APHR, have vouched for her innocence and called for her immediate release.

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