United States Senate Majority Whip Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-IL) on Thursday (Wednesday in Washington, D.C.) told Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that the US recognizes the importance of its security cooperation with the Philippines but “not at the exclusion of the country’s human rights record”.
Durbin and Locsin met virtually to tackle issues covering US-Philippines cooperation and the continued detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of President Duterte. Locsin is still in the United States after attending the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries.
During his meeting with Locsin, the senior lawmaker from Illinois raised several human rights concerns under Duterte, including the controversial drug-related extrajudicial killings, harassment of journalists such as Maria Ressa, and jailing of opposing voices such as De Lima.
Durbin’s colleague Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was also present in the meeting.
“I reassured Philippines Foreign Minister Locsin and Ambassador (Jose) Romualdez that the United States recognizes the importance of cooperation with the Philippines to bolster security in the region, but it will not be at the exclusion of the country’s human rights record,” Durbin said in a statement posted online.
The Democratic senator noted that Filipino community leaders from his home state of Illinois remain ‘disturbed” by Duterte’s actions, including the jailing of human rights defender De Lima, crackdowns on the free press, and extrajudicial murders.
In July, Durbin, along with 10 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing their concerns with the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The US senators were also asking for the Biden Administration’s strategy for addressing the Duterte government’s violations.
Last year, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Durbin, and others passed Senate Resolution 142 criticizing the Duterte government’s “troubling human rights record” and called for the release of De Lima.
On June 14 this year, US Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa) reintroduced in the House of Representatives the Philippine Human Rights Act (PHRA) that aims to block US funds for police or military assistance to the Philippines, including equipment and training, until such time as human rights conditions are complied with.