Only a Philippine court can decide what happens next to Leila De Lima

US President Donald Trump recently passed a law banning Philippine government officials found to be involved in the arrest and detention of Senator Leila De Lima. But that is based on the assumption that this arrest and detention is wrong. Who decides whether De Lima’s arrest and detention are wrong? The Americans? Leila De Lima? Leila De Lima’s supporters?

Therein lies the difficulty in the implementation of this new law. Nonetheless, De Lima is ecstatic…

The US is, of course, at liberty to deny or allow any foreigner entry into its territories. Indeed, American consuls have exercised that power for decades as any hapless Philippine passport holder applying for a tourist visa into the US very well knows. Regardless of any one Filipino’s feeling about whether a visa denial was right or wrong, a US consul has the final say.

But what a US official rules by no means represents what is right by a Philippine court. In the case of Leila De Lima, a Philippine court is the only authority that can decide whether or not De Lima’s arrest and detention were right and is the only institution authorised to order her release.

By deferring to the US government as a means to influence the Philippine courts, De Lima is, in essence, insulting the Philippines’ entire judicial branch. She may even be in contempt of Philippine courts because of what she wrote in those letters.

As a lawyer, De Lima should know better. The Philippine judiciary is the only authority that can decide her fate as far as the charges against her are concerned and as far as her status as a detainee is concerned. Not the Americans, not the Yellowtards. Only a Philippine court can decide what happens to her next.

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