Washington— Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, yesterday called on the State Department to take action on Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s attacks on press freedoms. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Engel raised the politically motivated sentencing of journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. as part of a concerning erosion of democratic institutions in the Philippines.
“This politically motivated verdict highlights our longstanding concerns regarding the erosion of democratic norms under the Duterte administration. We urge you to raise these concerns with your counterpart and to make every effort to encourage Manilla’s recommitment to democratic principles, including judicial independence,” Engel wrote.
The letter was also signed by Representatives, Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ami Bera (D-CA), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Steve Chabot (R-OH).
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are deeply troubled by the June 15th conviction of Philippine journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr on “cyber libel” charges. This politically motivated verdict highlights our longstanding concerns regarding the erosion of democratic norms under the Duterte administration. We urge you to raise these concerns with your counterpart and to make every effort to encourage Manilla’s recommitment to democratic principles, including judicial independence.
The U.S.-Philippine alliance is crucial for stability in the Indo-Pacific and U.S. interests in the region. The alliance is also rooted in a shared history, deep people-to-people ties, and a mutual commitment to democratic values, including media freedoms and human rights.
Unfortunately, the Duterte administration has systematically worked to silence criticism by political opponents and the independent media, in contravention of the Philippine tradition of a vibrant civil society. This is especially true regarding criticism of President Duterte’s antidrug war and its attendant thousands of indefensible, well-documented extrajudicial killings. The conviction of Ms. Ressa, an internationally acclaimed reporter and a U.S. citizen, sends yet another chilling message to journalists in the Philippines.
We appreciate the State Department’s statement of concern for the future of freedom of expression in the Philippines after the court’s verdict in Ms. Ressa’s case. It is critical that the Department continue and strengthen its efforts on this front. We ask that you raise these concerns with senior officials in Manilla at every opportunity and ensure that human rights and strengthening democratic institutions are at the forefront of U.S. policy toward the Philippines. It is critical that the United States work to stem the democratic regression in the Philippines.
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