Four lawmakers belonging to the Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) group criticised Philippine authorities yesterday for blocking their visit to Senator Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Dutere, in her detention cell.
The lawmakers — Teddy Baguilat and Tom Villarin from the Philippines and Malaysian members of parliament Charles Santiago and Tian Chua — were denied access to De Lima, who has been detained for eight months on drug charges, according to a report by the APHR.
The group had applied for formal permission and were not given notice that they could not see the senator.
Their vehicle was denied entry at the Philippine National Police (PNP) custodial centre.
“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 Asean rights body, said.
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. During her stint as chairwoman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), De Lima investigated cases of extra-judicial killings in Davao City when Duterte was the mayor.
In the senate last year, she initiated hearings on summary killings in the government’s war on drugs. Santiago said APHR reiterates its call for her immediate release.
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