Rights activists call for de Lima to be freed following hostage situation

Aie Balagtas See
Rights activists call for de Lima to be freed following hostage situation Supporters of detained former opposition Sen. Leila de Lima hold signs as they wait for her to pass in Muntinlupa, Philippines, Oct. 10, 2022.
Aaron Favila/BenarNews

Calls for the Philippine government to provisionally release detained ex-Sen. Leila de Lima increased Monday, as police released details of her harrowing ordeal in the hands of an inmate who took her hostage after two others were killed while attempting to escape.

Butch Olano, Amnesty International’s chief in the Philippines, said the government should release the former senator from the Philippine National Police custodial center inside its Camp Crame headquarters immediately following Sunday’s violent episode. 

Olano said it was deeply alarming that the former senator and leading critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs “has had to endure this traumatizing and frightening experience.

“The Philippine government must thoroughly and impartially investigate this incident – especially as Leila has been the subject of vicious attacks and political persecution in the last five years – and ensure that this never happens again. It is the government’s obligation to ensure the safety and security of Leila, and of all detainees while in detention,” Olano said in a statement.  

“Her immediate release is the least that the Marcos administration could do to rectify her situation,” he said. “Anything less – including President [Ferdinand] Marcos’ offer to transfer to a different detention facility – is a perpetuation of this grave injustice against her,” he said. 

Cristina Palabay, human rights group Karapatan’s secretary-general, joined in calling for de Lima and other political prisoners to be released. 

“In the first place, Sen. Leila de Lima shouldn’t be in jail over preposterous, retaliatory and baseless charges. Many political prisoners like her have always faced dangers and threats to their security even in prison. She should be released immediately,” Palabay said in a Sunday tweet.

Human Rights Watch on Sunday also said it was horrified by the incident and renewed its calls for de Lima to be released.

On Monday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros recounted seeing de Lima hunched over her chair while giving testimony to authorities. 

“Of course, who can be unshaken with such an experience? She was already committing to paper her memories of the ordeal while everything was still fresh,” Hontiveros said. 

“With her typical strength of spirit, unbroken after half a decade in unjust detention, she was talking with me, with her lawyer, with her staffer who was there, sometimes even able to laugh after she heard anything funny,” Hontiveros said.

Harrowing ordeal

Philippine police on Sunday said three detainees facing criminal charges for their alleged links with terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Dawlah Islamiyah attacked an officer with a crude knife while lining up for breakfast. Dawlah Islamiyah is the Arabic name Filipinos use to refer to the Islamic State.

Two suspects were killed in the ensuing struggle, while a third ran toward de Lima’s cell and held her hostage. 

In her affidavit shortly after the incident, de Lima said she tried to reason with the inmate, identified as Feliciano Sulayao Jr., who appeared ready to kill her after he had been cornered. His two companions, Arnel Cabintoy and Idang Susukan, were fatally shot minutes earlier.

She said Sulayao pressed a sharp object –an icepick or a screwdriver – to her chest as he demanded an escape vehicle and said that if he demands were not met he would kill her. 

“When my hostage-taker saw that the main outer maximum security gate had been shut, he again dragged me inside my room where I fell hard because he pushed me,” de Lima said in her sworn statement. “Once inside, he tied my feet and he blindfolded me,” she said, adding that he used towels to restrain her. 

“While I was blindfolded, he sat me on a swivel chair with my back toward the door. All the while, this sharp object was pressed hard against my chest,” she said. 

Sulayao wanted to be taken back to the southern island of Jolo and asked de Lima to relay the message, but she couldn’t because mobile phones were not allowed inside the jail, according to de Lima’s sworn statement in Tagalog.

He later asked what time it was and when he saw the wall clock in de Lima’s cell, he said: “It’s 7 a.m. now, if nothing happens by 7:30 a.m., I’m sorry ma’am, we are both dead. They will kill me anyway, might as well take you along. 

“He was shouting that he wants the media, and when none came, he said ‘this is it ma’am, it’s time.’ He started praying in Islam and then I started praying quietly. Closed my eyes and uttered mentally, ‘dear Lord, it is up to you,’” de Lima said. 

Seconds passed before she heard successive shots and de Lima said she was rushed outside the cell.


National Police chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr. told reporters that investigators are looking into lapses among prison guards that led to the hostage situation, adding that the chief guard has been relieved. 

“The Forensic Group is also conducting an investigation at the site. We are trying to study, reevaluate the existing policies and guidelines pertaining to the visitation of detainees’ families,” Azurin said. 

ph de lima inside.jpg
Former Sen. Leila de Lima meets with Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. following the hostage situation at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, Oct. 9, 2022. [Benhur Abalos Jr. Facebook page]

Marcos said he would talk to de Lima to check on her condition and offer the former senator an opportunity to be transferred to another detention center. 

De Lima declined the offer, according to Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr., who met with her on Sunday after the incident. 

“But she said she feels safer in her current place so she prefers to stay there,” Abalos said. 

De Lima was jailed in 2017 on charges that she profited from drug dealing while serving as justice secretary. Since her arrest, at least three of the government’s witnesses have backtracked and said they had been coerced into testifying against her.

Rights groups have called the three cases against de Lima trumped up, and she has denied all the charges. A court already dismissed one of three cases against her.

On Monday, the prosecutor cut short a court hearing on one of the remaining cases against de Lima because Abalos had tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday evening.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Dennis Jay Santos in Davao City, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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