Philippine supporters of Duterte critic de Lima seek her freedom

Jeoffrey Maitem and Camille Elemia
Philippine supporters of Duterte critic de Lima seek her freedom Supporters of former Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima offer prayers outside the Muntinlupa Trial Court in Manila, June 5, 2023.
Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews

Supporters of a former senator who is a fierce critic of ex-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday they hoped she could be released on bail “very, very soon,” after judges previously dismissed two of the three drug-related complaints against her.

Leila de Lima, who has been jailed since 2017 and lost her bid for reelection last year, faced three separate complaints alleging she received bribes from drug traders while serving as justice secretary from 2010 to 2016. Judges dismissed cases against her in 2021 and in May after witnesses recanted their testimony.

De Lima lawyer Filibon Tacardon told reporters on Monday that Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura was expected to issue a decision on the former senator’s bail petition, adding the ruling could come before a scheduled June 19 hearing on the third case.

“There is good development in our hearing today. It was a short hearing, but we finished a lot. For the bail resolution, the judge told us he will be releasing his resolution on Sen. de Lima’s application for bail very, very soon,” Tacardon said.

“It may be the next hearing or prior to the next hearing,” Tacardon said. 

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.

De Lima has repeatedly denied all charges against her, saying they were fabricated by Duterte’s allies as a form of revenge. While serving as human rights commissioner, she launched investigations into Duterte’s drug war including when he served as mayor of Davao city in southern Philippines before being elected to the top office. 

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Former Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima greets supporters at the Muntinlupa Trial Court in Manila, June 5, 2023. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

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

As senator, de Lima headed the justice committee and initiated an inquiry into the spate of drug-related killings across the nation after Duterte took office on June 30, 2016. Her committee heard from Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed former assassin who was part of the “Davao Death Squad” overseen by Duterte from the mayor’s office.

Duterte, who the International Criminal Court alleged he was responsible for “crime against humanity” over the killings, has denied the existence of the death squads.

US delegation support

In August 2022, a congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey were able to meet with de Lima in prison after originally being denied the visit. While Markey and the delegation did not speak to reporters afterward, his office released a statement.

“For too long, Senator Leila de Lima has been held on politically motivated charges. Despite this, her spirit remains undiminished. I call on the new government to release her and drop all charges without delay,” Markey said in the statement at the time.

Her younger brother, Vicente de Lima II, said the family is praying for her immediate release.  

“It’s been six years. Two of her cases were already dismissed,” he told reporters. “We are hoping since there is a pending petition, the judge will decide as soon as possible. 

“Our mother is old and sick. My sister misses my mother so much,” he said, adding that Leila de Lima’s first agenda once released is to visit her mother in their hometown of Iriga City in the province of Camarines Sur in southern Luzon.


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