Philippine court denies bail to top Duterte critic de Lima

Jason Gutierrez
Philippine court denies bail to top Duterte critic de Lima Supporters of former Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima protest outside a court after she was acquitted of a drug charge in Muntinlupa city, suburban Manila, May 12, 2023.
Ted Aljibe/AFP

A Philippine court on Wednesday denied bail in a drugs case to former Sen. Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of ex-President Rodrigo Duterte in a decision one rights activist called “scandalous.”

The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court’s rejection of de Lima’s bail request, confirmed by her defense team, came as a surprise, especially since the courts threw out two of three drug-related complaints against the former senator who has been behind bars since 2017.

“We are saddened to announce that the court did not grant Sen.Leila de Lima's petition for bail. We did not expect this decision,” said a statement from de Lima’s defense team.

“The defense team will file a motion for reconsideration. We are hoping that the court will agree with our position that testimonies of convicted criminals should never be accepted or believed, especially from those who have resentment against the accused.”

The statement said de Lima’s supporters will continue their “fight for justice and freedom.”

Carlos Conde, senior researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch in the Philippines, said the development was a “sad day” for rights defenders.

“The denial of bail for former Sen. Leila de Lima prolongs the injustice committed against her since more than six years ago,” Conde said in a statement.

“This flies in the face of her previous court acquittal in two cases, which clearly showed the political nature of her persecution.”

Conde said he was “very surprised” by the court’s rejection of bail for de Lima, and called it “scandalous.”

“This was surprising, not only to the human rights community, but even diplomats were counting on the court to grant her bail. This just boggles the mind,” he said.

The Duterte government had lodged three cases against de Lima accusing her of receiving huge payoffs from drug traffickers when she was justice secretary. Judges dismissed cases against her in 2021 and in May after witnesses recanted their testimony.

De Lima, who led the opposition to Duterte’s war on drugs, repeatedly denied all the charges against her. She has argued they were fabricated by Duterte’s allies to stop her from speaking up against his drug war that has left at least 8,000 dead, according to police statistics. 

Conde said the court’s decision to deny bail reflected badly on the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as well. He was elected last year with support from the Duterte camp. 

Marcos in March said he would end communications with the International Criminal Court after The Hague-based institution rejected Manila’s appeal to stop investigating his predecessor’s deadly drug war.

Conde said de Lima was being politically persecuted and that Marcos ought to step in and ask the courts to drop the remaining case.

“There are steps that Mr. Marcos can take to give credence to his avowals of reform as far as human rights is concerned,” Conde said. “This just doesn’t look good on him.”

De Lima was jailed in February 2017 on charges that she received payoffs through the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary. Since then, at least three witnesses presented by the Duterte administration recanted, saying they had been coerced into testifying against her.

While serving as human rights commissioner, de Lima launched investigations into Duterte’s drug war including during the time he served as mayor of Davao city in southern Philippines before being elected to the top office.

The former Philippine senator’s case has attracted international attention, including from United States lawmakers who have questioned her detention.

Jeoffrey Maitem, Gerard Carreon and Basilio Sepe in Manila contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.