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MANILA, Philippines – Despite the court’s decision to allow former senator Leila de Lima to post bail, the people behind her imprisonment should be held accountable, said Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde and human rights lawyer Tony La Viña.
In a live forum with Rappler on Monday, November 13, Conde and La Viña agreed that drug cases against De Lima were politically motivated.
“It is very clear that this is political persecution,” De Lima’s legal counsel La Viña said.
De Lima, who previously chaired the Commission on Human Rights and investigated extrajudicial killings allegedly carried out by the shadowy Davao Death Squad in Davao City, reportedly under the orders of then-mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
When Duterte became president, De Lima investigated his bloody war on drugs in the Senate, which killed thousands of Filipinos.
Because of this, De Lima was put on the receiving end of attacks. In his first year in office, Duterte “assured” his fiercest critic, De Lima, that she would be put behind bars.
De Lima, who was then a senator, faced “public trial” in both chambers of Congress led by Duterte allies: then-House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. The trial, later on, was brought to the court which put De Lima in almost seven years in detention.
La Viña said that Congress should look into “how its processes were weaponized against an opposition.”
“It is important to expose the people in congress…[they] actually started the whole process and [we should] hold them accountable,” La Viña said.
Conde said that if he was De Lima, he would have taken a civil suit.
“If they can do this to Ms. De Lima, imagine all of the things that are happening against ordinary citizens. Every day we document cases of people, activists [and] ordinary people suffering from the defects of the criminal justice system that are relegated to just accepting their fate because nobody dares to sue these people to take them to court to really punish them and hold them accountable,” he said.
When asked if she would go after her persecutors and file counter-complaints, De Lima said that she was still discussing it with her team.
Former presidential political adviser Ronald Llmas, as well as Conde and La Viña, believed that the current political climate somehow played a part in the long overdue release of the former lawmaker.
According to Llmas, the release of De Lima was a “low-hanging fruit” for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to make the image of their family good in the eyes of the international community.
Besides, De Lima and Marcos do not have bad blood between them, Llmas said.
When asked why it took De Lima over a year to be released under the current administration, Llmas said that Marcos had to navigate his alliance with the two powerful former presidents – Duterte and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Arroyo remains in power as Pampanga’s 2nd District Representative. However, her influence in the lower chamber appears to be waning. First, she was demoted from her senior speakership post in May. Then she was ousted as a deputy speaker on November 7.
These all happened amid allegations that Arroyo was plotting a coup to snatch the position of Marcos cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez.
Apart from the brewing tension between Arroyo and Romualdez, Conde believed that the supposed “fall-out” between Marcos and Duterte also had something to do with the recent developments in De Lima’s case.
“It is important to note that it happened when judges and the courts were not under assault or pressure as they were, presumably during Duterte’s time,” Conde said.
He, however, was quick to clarify that it does not mean that De Lima was granted bail because Vice President Sara Duterte and Speaker Romualdez were “at each other’s throats.”
Recently, the House of Representatives stripped the Duterte-led Office of the Vice President’s and Department of Education’s confidential funds for the 2024 budget. The lower chamber also resisted the tirades of former president Duterte against Congress, its Speaker Romualdez, and for threatening to kill one member of the House.
After De Lima’s bail was granted, she thanked Marcos for “respecting” the court’s independence.
Despite the celebration of De Lima’s team, La Viña said that her case highlights that there is a “failure” in the country’s justice system.
“It is important for us in the legal system and those of us who help in the judicial system to think of what ways we can do to make sure that what happened to [former] Leila De Lima…should never happen again,” he said. – Rappler.com