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Philippine Supreme Court Rejects Plea by Top Duterte Critic

Felipe Villamor
Manila
2017-10-10
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Philippine Sen. Leila De Lima, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's most-vocal critics, waves to her supporters after appearing at a court in a Manila suburb, Feb. 24, 2017.
AFP

The Philippines’ highest court on Tuesday rejected a petition by a leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte to be released from jail, saying her arguments lacked merit.

Supporters of jailed Sen. Leila de Lima criticized the ruling, saying her prolonged detention amounted to political persecution.

By a 9-6 vote the Supreme Court turned down the senator’s motion to recall a warrant for her arrest issued by a regional court. It also rejected her request to dismiss what she had argued were trumped-up charges.

De Lima, former head of the country’s human rights commission, was jailed in February on charges she allegedly received bribes from drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign last year.

She denied the charges and alleged the government was going after her for questioning Duterte’s internationally maligned drug war.

Since Duterte took power in June 2016, more than 12,800 people have been shot dead across the Philippines, according to official government figures.

The fatalities include about 3,000 who were killed in alleged gunfights between suspects and police officers during anti-drug operations. Suspected vigilantes were involved in more than 8,000 of those killings, officials said.

De Lima, 58, led a Senate panel that heard testimony from a former police officer and a self-confessed assassin who testified they belonged to a death squad controlled by Duterte when he was the longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao.

De Lima alleged that Duterte employed the same tactics when he became president by empowering police to carry out extrajudicial killings by promising them immunity from prosecution.

She was removed as chairwoman of the Senate panel investigating the deaths and soon after became the subject of an investigation by Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives.

They presented jailed drug traffickers as witnesses who claimed that De Lima received payoffs from them in exchange for allowing them to operate from inside the country’s national penitentiary.

Those allegations, which were prepared by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, became the basis for the charges against De Lima. Aguirre, a fraternity brother of the president, accused De Lima of using drug money to fund her senatorial run.

Members of the Senate’s minority bloc said that while they respected the Supreme Court’s decision, they disagreed with the ruling.

“We are hoping the magistrates would correct the unjustified jailing of Sen. de Lima,” they said in a statement. “It is worrying that the one who is fighting for the rights of the poor and helpless is now the subject of the state’s campaign.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she was saddened by the decision on De Lima “who remains in jail on trumped up charges.”

“I am calling on the all Filipinos who love democracy and human rights to continue giving their support to De Lima,” she said.

“In these times of darkness, we need to continue the fight for truth and justice,” Hontiveros said.

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