MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Opposition Senator Leila de Lima surrendered to the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Friday morning, February 24, over drug charges filed against her by the Department of Justice (DOJ) before a court in Muntinlupa.
An arresting team from the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group was on its way shortly past 8 am to Camp Crame with De Lima, where she is expected to be detained.
She stepped out of the building to voluntarily yield to authorities. (READ: Who is the judge who ordered De Lima's arrest?)
"Sasama na po ako sa kanila voluntarily. Nananalig po ako sa Diyos na malalampasan ko po ito (I will join them voluntarily. I have faith in God that I will be able to hurdle this)," the senator said.
"It's my honor to be jailed for the principles I am fighting for," De Lima told reporters in Filipino before the arrest.
She reiterated her denial of charges she coddled drug convicts. "Pawang kasinungalingan po 'yan. Lalabas po ang katotohanan sa tamang panahon (The truth will come out at the proper time)," De Lima said.
Former president Benigno Aquino III talked to her on the phone before her surrender, according to De Lima's media officer, Ferdie Maglalang.
De Lima reached Camp Crame at around 8:40 am. After the booking process at the CIDG, she was brought to the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) to appear before Judge Juanita Guerrero.
De Lima is the 4th Philippine senator to be arrested in 3 years. Three former senators under the previous Aquino administration – Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada – were arrested and subsequently jailed in 2014 on the basis of plunder charges readied by the Department of Justice, then under De Lima.
One of the senator's co-accused, her former driver, Ronnie Dayan, was arrested Thursday, February 23, in Urbiztondo, Pangasinan.
Early Friday, De Lima said she was ready for the arrest and had a few hours of sleep. (READ: After a few hours of sleep, De Lima ready for long day)
Her lawyers on Friday asked Judge Guerrero to recall the arrest warrant against the senator, said De Lima's media officer.
They also plan to bring the case to the Supreme Court later Friday, according to lawyer Alexander Padilla.
Around 7 pm on Thursday, an emotional De Lima appealed to be allowed to spend the night with her family first, and that she would voluntarily surrender to the arresting team at the Senate on Friday morning.
The senator left the Senate after her press conference past 7 pm on Thursday, confident that she had secured that arrangement with the help of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, but headed back to the Senate upon learning that the arresting team was on its way to her home. She left before the arrival of the arresting team.
The arresting team entered De Lima's subdivision at around 10 pm, while the senator reached her office past 10 pm, and spent the night there.
Pimentel said in a media interview earlier in the day that under the Senate rules, an arrest cannot be made inside Senate premises.
He also said the primary concern of the Senate is De Lima's security. "She will continue to function as a senator," Pimentel added.
Malacañang welcomed the arrest as a "major step forward" in its war on drugs. Liberal Party politicians and sectors supporting De Lima say it's simple persecution.
De Lima's arrest is the culmination of a 5-month high-profile investigation of her alleged links to drug lords detained in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, charges that she said were concocted by the administration to silence her.
She had led a Senate probe into the alleged involvement of President Rodrigo Duterte in extrajudicial killings in Davao City when he was mayor, but that probe cost her her leadership of the Senate justice committee.
On February 17, De Lima was charged in court for violating Section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which penalizes the "sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs."
Section 28 of the same law imposes maximum penalties for government officials found guilty of the crime. (READ: EXPLAINER: What is Leila de Lima being accused of?)
Aside from De Lima, the others charged before the Muntinlupa RTC were Dayan, former Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Franklin Jesus Bucayu, former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, Bucayu's former staff Wilfredo Elli, inmate Jaybee Sebastian, De Lima's ex-security aide Joenel Sanchez, and De Lima's nephew Jad de Vera.
In exchange for testifying against De Lima, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said the DOJ dismissed the drug complaints against Bilibid inmates Herbert Colanggo, Engelbert Durano, Vicente Sy, Jojo Baligad, and Peter Co. "They will be utilized as prosecution witnesses," Aguirre earlier said.
De Lima previously asked the Court of Appeals to stop the DOJ from investigating her, saying it's the Ombudsman that has jurisdiction over elected public officials like her.
The drug accusations stemmed from a marathon House inquiry, where high-level inmates alleged that the senator facilitated the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.