ASEAN lawmakers: Free De Lima, end EJKs

Bea Cupin

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ASEAN lawmakers: Free De Lima, end EJKs
The group – composed of former and current parliament members – say Senator Leila de Lima was detained because she criticized President Duterte's war on drugs


MANILA, Philippines – The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) joined calls for the release of Senator Leila de Lima on Friday, August 25, amid renewed uproar against President Rodrigo Duterte’s popular and bloody war on drugs.

“Officials in the Philippines should immediately release Senator Leila De Lima, jailed on politically motivated charges, and cease threats against her and other human rights defenders who have been critical of the government’s ‘war on drugs,’” the group said in a statement released to media.

De Lima is currently detained in the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s custodial center in Camp Crame on drug charges which the senator has claimed to be politically motivated. De Lima, a member of the Liberal Party, was and continues to be among Duterte’s most vocal critics.

APHR shared the same view.

“President Duterte’s increasingly brutal war on drugs is an affront to human rights, the rule of law, and democratic accountability. Senator De Lima’s pointed criticism of it should be applauded, not punished, and she should be freed from prison and allowed to continue her important work in the Senate,” said its chair Charles Santiago, a former member of the Malaysian parliament.

The APHR is composed of current and former parliamentarians.  It works around the region to make sure governments uphold and enforce international human rights laws.

Former Akbayan representative Walden Bello and Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat are incumbent APHR board members from the Philippines. 

“It’s clear that the charges against her are politically motivated, and her continued imprisonment, along with threatening rhetoric from the administration, sends a chilling signal to others who might oppose this killing spree,” added Santiago.

De Lima was arrested in February this year, after months of being labelled a drug personality by administration allies, members, and even Duterte himself.

The House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte allies, held legislative investigations in 2016 into allegations of De Lima’s links to the illegal drugs industry inside the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice secretary. (READ: EU Parliament approves call to free De Lima)

De Lima and Duterte 

The jailed senator and Duterte have a long history.

When she was still Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair, De Lima investigated the so-called “Davao Death Squad” which Duterte allegedly had a hand in. Investigations into the so-called death squad continued as De Lima was appointed Justice Secretary. Several policemen and officials received sanctions over deaths linked to the death squad.

No charges were filed against then Davao City Mayor Duterte, however.

Duterte, who is known for sexist remarks, has repeatedly joked about a supposed compromising video of the senator. 

APHR board member Mu Sochua, of the Cambodian National Assembly, linked this history to De Lima’s current predicament. “To pretend that this is not related to her arrest and imprisonment would be turning a blind eye to the reality on the ground.”

The war on drugs was among Duterte’s key campaign promises during the 2016 elections. To date, more than 3,000 drug personalities have been killed in police operations allegedly because they “fought back (nanlaban)” against policemen. Thousands more have been killed in vigilante-style killings linked to drugs.

Millions have “surrendered” and tens of thousands, arrested.

But police have also been accused of breaking the law and resorting to summary executions in the name of the war on drugs.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines should be of concern to other governments in the region and to ASEAN itself, whose silence on this issue is becoming deafening,” said APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives of Indonesia.

A Senate committee – initially under De Lima – probed the rise in killings linked to the drug war, back in the early days of the Duterte administration. But De Lima was removed from her post. The committee eventually concluded that the killings were not Duterte nor state-backed.

Injustices by police in the war on drugs have taken the spotlight in recent weeks following the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos during a drug operation in Caloocan City. While police claim he “fought back” – CCTV footage and witness accounts tell a different story.

Initial results from laboratory and autopsy examinations have indicated that Delos Santos did not have traces of nitrates and was kneeling when he was shot – contradicting claims that he “fought back.”

Various groups have called on the Philippines to shift its approach on the war on drugs, a plea that has so far fell on deaf ears.

De Lima herself, in a statement on August 25, called on cops to “regain the trust of those that they serve… by stopping their practice of ‘do-it-your-own’ justice through killings.” –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.