Resolution urges Government of the Philippines to respect freedom of expression and fundamental rights


Washington (April 5, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) this week introduced a bipartisan resolution that condemns ongoing human rights abuses in the Philippines. The resolution specifically raised the cases of the Philippine legislator Leila de Lima and the journalist Maria Ressa. Senator de Lima has been detained for more than 700 days on allegations of drug trafficking that observers widely agree are in response to her criticism of Duterte government policies. Similarly, Ressa, the founder of the online news platform Rappler, has been arrested multiple times on libel charges after publishing articles that investigated the Duterte government’s role in extrajudicial killings during anti-narcotic operations. As with the case of Senator de Lima, the charges brought against Ressa appear to be without merit and constitute an effort to intimidate voices against the government.    


“Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines have been a stain on the country’s human rights record,” said Senator Markey. “But rather than working with lawmakers, journalists, and civil society in the Philippines to hold perpetrators for these crimes accountable, the Duterte government is turning the law against the very voices promoting the rights of the Philippine people. The Philippines is a close ally, but this bipartisan resolution makes it clear that the U.S. Congress seeks an immediate improvement in the government’s behavior and the end of efforts to weaponize the rule of law against brave individuals like Senator Leila de Lima and Maria Ressa.”


“The Duterte government in the Philippines continues to chip away at respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights,” said Senator Durbin. “This bipartisan resolution condemns their government’s troubling behavior and calls for the release of political prisoners, including Senator de Lima, and journalists who have been imprisoned under bogus charges.”


“The Government of the Philippines needs to respect the fundamental human rights of its people,” said Senator Blackburn. “The ongoing extrajudicial killings and meritless imprisonment of Senator de Lima and Ms. Ressa are unconscionable. This bipartisan resolution makes it clear that while we value our relationship with the Philippines, the U.S. Congress expects to see real change to the current practices of the Duterte government.”


“As a co-chair of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, I believe it is critical to hold our allies accountable for our shared commitment to democratic values,” said Senator Coons. “I remain deeply concerned about the “war on drugs” in the Philippines, as well as the persecution of human rights defenders, the ongoing detention of Senator de Lima, and the multiple arrests of journalist Maria Ressa. I look forward to working with this bipartisan group of senators to promote respect for human rights in the Philippines.”


A copy of the resolution can be found HERE.


The Department of State’s 2017 Human Rights Report notes numerous human rights concerns, including the persecution of human rights defenders and the detention of political prisoners in the Philippines, stating, “The most significant human rights issues included: killings by security forces, vigilantes and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; often harsh and life threatening prison conditions; warrantless arrests by security forces and cases of apparent government disregard for legal rights and due process; political prisoners; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; threats of violence against human rights activists; violence against women; and forced labor.”


Introduction of the bipartisan resolution follows passage of similar legislation in the House of Representatives introduced by Representative Jackie Speier.