MANILA, Philippines – Human rights and civil society groups welcomed the “long overdue” acquittal of former senator Leila de Lima as a Muntinlupa court cleared her in one of her two remaining illegal drug charges.
Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 on Friday, May 12, acquitted De Lima in Criminal Case Number 17-165. She was accused of violating section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.”
De Lima, however, will remain in detention as she awaits the resolution of her bail petition filed before Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 in relation to a separate drug charge.
Amnesty International said that the acquittal of De Lima was “long overdue” after more than six years. In a statement, the group said she “should not have spent a single day in jail, and it is now time to provide adequate reparations” for the violations she suffered from.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement, said that this latest acquittal further proves the “bogus, harassing nature” of the charges filed against De Lima that were part of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s “vindictive campaign to destroy her.”
“[De Lima]’s steadfast commitment to human rights and the rule of law are commendable and should be recognized,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“Freeing her now is critical so she can return to her family, leaving the injustice of years behind bars in pre-trial detention caused by Duterte’s vengeful cruelty,” he added.
De Lima is considered one of Duterte’s fiercest critics. As chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2009, she initiated an investigation into the widespread killings allegedly perpetrated by the notorious Davao Death Squad. Then-Davao City mayor Duterte took part in a public inquiry presided by De Lima herself.
She was subjected to misogynistic congressional hearings on her alleged involvement in illegal drugs before being arrested in February 2017. The then-senator consistently denied the accusations and tagged them as retaliation from the ex-president. (TIMELINE: De Lima – from drug probe to arrest)
Hold Duterte accountable
“The Marcos administration must work towards holding accountable those responsible for her arbitrary detention, which clearly violated her rights to liberty, presumption of innocence and other fair trial guarantees,” Montse Ferrer, AI interim deputy regional director for research.
Karapatan also lauded the court decision. It praised De Lima, pointing out how she “remained firm and steadfast in speaking out against Duterte’s crimes” despite being persecuted by the government.
“As we welcome Senator Leila’s acquittal and call for her release, we likewise call for the release of all political prisoners like her who have been persecuted because of their work and beliefs on human rights and social justice,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.
Women’s rights group EveryWoman urged the Muntinlupa court to grant De Lima’s bail petition. It also condemned the actions of Duterte against the former senator.
“Ang poot at pangdudusta na ginawa ni Duterte kay Leila ay pangdudusta sa lahat ng babae…dahil ginawa niyang normal at katanggap-tanggap ang panghahamak at pangbabastos sa babae,” the group said.
“Misogyny is a violation of human rights, and when it victimizes one woman, it victimizes us all,” it added.
(Duterte’s hatred and insult of Leila is an insult of all women…because he normalized and made acceptable the humiliation of, and profanity against, women.)
Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights (LILAK) said the acquittal proves that the cases against De Lima are fabricated.
“The accusations against Senator Leila are nothing but lies aimed at destroying her reputation as a human rights defender,” LILAK said, noting that the “real perpetrators and human rights violators” are roaming freely “without accountability.”
The group urged the Marcos administration to release other political prisoners and to “respect, protect, and recognize everyone’s right to speak critically against violence, injustice, and impunity.” – Rappler.com
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