A Philippine court on Monday (13/11) ordered the release of a former senator jailed more than six years ago on drug charges it said were trumped up to muzzle its investigation into Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs while he was president.
The European Union parliament, some American lawmakers and a number of UN human rights experts have long demanded the release of Leila de Lima, who was detained as an opposition senator in February 2017 in what they said was political persecution by Duterte and his allies and a major blow to democracy. Philippines.
Duterte, whose tumultuous six-year term ended in June last year, has insisted that de Lima made a mistake, saying witnesses alleged that de Lima received payments from jailed drug lords.
General Gito District Court judge on Monday overturned an earlier ruling and granted a request by de Lima and four other defendants to be released on bail while standing trial in the latest drug case. Two other drug cases against him, which could not be appealed, have been dropped.
A life-size cutout of Senator Leila de Lima, center, is seen on stage in Manila, Philippines, March 2, 2022. (Photo: AP)
Dozens of de Lima’s supporters chanted her name and cheered outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced in the suburb of Muntinlupa, where armed police escorted her from custody in a security convoy.
“It’s truly an indescribable feeling. Now I am starting over from scratch the life they tried to destroy,” de Lima told the Associated Press news agency shortly after her bail was approved. “This is freedom. It’s very valuable.”
De Lima immediately called her sick 91-year-old mother, and in a broken voice told her she was going home.
Before a crowd of TV cameras and photographers, de Lima thanked her family, lawyers, supporters, judges and the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “out of respect for judicial independence and the supremacy of law.” “It hurts to be in prison when you’re innocent,” he said to the camera. “But I don’t want to be sad or bitter today. This is a moment of victory, joy and also gratitude.”
Her team of lawyers said they hoped the female politician would be able to return home Monday evening or Tuesday morning after posting 300,000 pesos ($5,357) bail and after police permission and other permits were obtained.
“This is a long human rights nightmare and it is over,” said priest Fr. Robert Reyes, de Lima’s main supporter, in court. “But there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure accountability for what happened to him.”
As chairman of the Human Rights Commission in 2009, de Lima led an investigation into the massacre of suspected drug traffickers under Mayor Duterte’s administration in the southern city of Davao. He failed to find witnesses willing to testify publicly against the leader. De Lima later served as the country’s Minister of Justice.
In 2016, Duterte won the presidency by a wide margin on an anti-crime platform. At the same time de Lima was elected to the Senate and launched an investigation into Duterte’s fight against drugs.
Authorities apparently moved early to build a case against de Lima. They obtained testimony from a number of imprisoned drug lords, and then arrested de Lima. (ab/ka)