Aguirre: De Lima can’t become a ‘political prisoner’

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Aguirre: De Lima can’t become a ‘political prisoner’

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II says the drug charges filed against Senator Leila de Lima 'are not politically motivated'

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Saturday, February 18, that Senator Leila de Lima cannot claim that she would become the “first political prisoner” under the Duterte administration once she is arrested for  drug charges.

In a statement, Aguirre asserted that the criminal complaints filed against De Lima “are not politically motivated.”

“It is wrong for Senator De Lima to refer to herself as a political prisoner,” Aguirre said. “Drug cases do not involve one’s political beliefs. It involves one’s choice to be involved in illegal drugs.”

He also maintained that he “has inhibited himself from all the cases” in the Department of Justice (DOJ) involving De Lima, who herself once headed the agency. Consequently, he said, the call to inhibit himself from the cases “has no more factual basis.”

The DOJ filed 3 criminal complaints before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court against De Lima, accusing her of violating Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.”

It comes 5 months after a House inquiry into the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison when De Lima was justice secretary. In the said probe, convicts claimed that De Lima received drug money in exchange for their protection.

Some of the inmates who testified against De Lima at the congressional inquiry had been cleared of drug charges as they would be used as state witnesses in the case against the senator.  Duterte himself had earlier described two of them – Herbert Colanggo and Peter Co – as drug lords “beyond redemption” who would surely “die” if they stepped out of jail during his term.

De Lima said that the drug charge is “plain and simple political persecution,” adding that she has prepared herself to be the “first political prisoner” under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The senator had said on many occasions that the Chief Executive had a “personal vendetta” against her.

De Lima, the President’s fiercest critic in the Senate, first incurred Duterte’s ire when she led investigations into his ties to the so-called Davao Death Squad back when she was chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights under the Arroyo administration.

The President’s allies in the House of Representatives initiated the probe into De Lima’s alleged involvement in the Bilibid drug trade after the senator filed a resolution to probe the extrajudicial killings in the administration’s war on drugs.

On Saturday, Aguirre also explained that the RTC has original and exclusive jurisdiction over the complaints, “regardless of the high position of the respondent.”

“Trading in illegal drugs has no connection with the performance of her duties as Secretary of Justice,” Aguirre added.

He also noted that De Lima and many previous justice secretaries had prosecuted several high-ranking officials before trial courts.

De Lima is expected to be arrested on Monday, February 20. (READ: What happens after criminal charges are filed against De Lima?) –

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