Philippines: Robredo Teams Up with Jailed Duterte Foe for 2022 Polls

J.C. Gotinga and Basilio Sepe
Philippines: Robredo Teams Up with Jailed Duterte Foe for 2022 Polls Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, a 2022 candidate for president, holds a news conference in Manila to announce the slate of senate candidates who will support her in the election, Oct. 15, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A jailed Philippine lawmaker who is an arch critic of the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs will headline the opposition’s Senate slate in the 2022 elections, Vice President Leni Robredo announced Friday.

Sen. Leila de Lima has been in prison for four years on what she says are trumped-up charges that she had profited from drug trafficking. In her former role as head of the Commission on Human Rights, she angered Rodrigo Duterte before he was elected president in 2016 by investigating reports of extrajudicial killings by a death squad that he had allegedly set up while serving as mayor of Davao City.

“The only reason why she is in jail is because she was the first, and the bravest, who stood up against the killings,” Robredo, who is running for the Philippine presidency next year as an opposition candidate, said of de Lima. 

“She spoke, and continues to speak the truth. She is fighting for the rights of Filipinos and she will continue this fight in the Senate. It is my honor to count Sen. de Lima among our ranks,” Robredo said.  

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately and can come from rival parties or partisan factions, as is the case with the respective incumbents, Duterte and Robredo.

Joining de Lima on the slate of Senate candidates teaming up Robredo for the election are incumbent Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Antonio Trillanes IV, a former senator. The latter two are also among leading critics of the Duterte administration’s drug war.

Robredo paid tribute to Trillanes and Hontiveros for fighting corruption and speaking out against Duterte’s position on the contested South China Sea.  

Trillanes, a former navy officer, holed himself up in the Senate in 2018 after Duterte tried to have him arrested on rebellion charges, for which Trillanes had previously been pardoned.

Other members of Robredo’s senate slate are former Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Dick Gordon, Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, Sen. Joel Villanueva, Sorsogon Gov. Chiz Escudero, former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. and lawyers Chel Diokno and Alex Lacson.

A 12th spot on the slate is open in advance of the May 2022 election when Filipinos will vote for one-third of the nation’s 36 senators.

Robredo said the Senate candidates she is backing were among the first to respond to her call for unity.

“That even if they went through so many disagreements in the past – I never regarded them as my enemies – even if there were conflicts in the paths they took before, their willingness to unite, that’s such an important thing. What we are sharing now is our aspirations for our country,” she said. 

Senator targeted

De Lima was elected to the Senate in the same year Duterte won the presidency by a landslide on a populist platform and a promise to rid the country of corruption and illegal drugs. 

Duterte wasted no time in going after de Lima.

He publicly humiliated her as she moved to mount a Senate inquiry into killings linked to his drug war. Two witnesses who testified in the Senate probe – a self-described member of hit squad and a police officer – would later file a case against Duterte before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. 

Last month, the ICC granted a prosecutor’s request to pursue a probe against Duterte, whose immunity from prosecution expires next year at the end of his six-year term. 

Although the government claims that about 8,000 have been killed in the drug war, ICC noted information supplied by human rights advocates and drug-war survivors indicate that as many as 30,000 people may have victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

De Lima, who filed her reelection bid from prison last week, said she had unfinished business to hold Duterte accountable for the killings over the past five years.  

“We must make sure that the Duterte government is made accountable for the complete mess it made out of our economy and our people’s security, for the mass murders, treason and many other sins against the people,” she said in a statement after filing her papers on Oct. 8.

The Senate, she said, has been awakened “to the criminal nature of the Duterte administration.”

Spokesmen for the president did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.

The country of 110 million will hold a general election in May 2022 to choose a successor to Duterte and Robredo, as well as fill the 12 Senate seats, all 316 House seats and about 18,000 official positions ranging from governors to mayors and town councilors.

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


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