Leila de Lima

‘Free Leila now’: Leni-Kiko call for De Lima’s release after witnesses retract accusations

Mara Cepeda

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‘Free Leila now’: Leni-Kiko call for De Lima’s release after witnesses retract accusations

DISMISSED. Detained senator Leila de Lima as she arrives at the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court to attend a hearing on her disobedience to summons case on February 27, 2019.

Darren Langit/Rappler

Vice President Leni Robredo says the retractions in the testimonies against De Lima by star witnesses Kerwin Espinosa and Rafael Ragos proves what they have been saying all along: Leila De Lima is not guilty of the drug charges against her

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo as well as her running mate Senator Kiko Pangilinan called for the immediate release of detained senator Leila de Lima after two star witnesses in her pending drug cases recanted their accusations. 

Robredo said the retractions in the testimonies against De Lima by star witnesses Kerwin Espinosa, alleged drug lord, and Rafael Ragos, former corrections chief, just proves what they have been saying all along: De Lima is not guilty of the drug charges against her. 

“Patunay lang ito ng katotohanang matagal ko nang iginigiit: Walang kaso laban kay Senator Leila de Lima. Ang tanging kasalanan niya ay ang magsabi ng totoo at ipagtanggol ang karapatan ng mga kapwa natin Pilipino,” said Robredo in a statement on Monday, May 2. 

(This proves the truth I have long been saying: There are no cases against Senator Leila de Lima. Her only sin was to tell the truth and defend the rights of our fellow Filipinos.)

“Wala nang dahilan para manatili sa piitan si Senator Leila. Dapat na siyang palayain sa lalong madaling panahon. Kaisa ko ang bawat Pilipinong naniniwala sa hustisya sa panawagan: Free Leila now,” she added. 

(There’s no more reason for Senator Leila to stay in jail. She should be freed as soon as possible. I am one with every Filipino calling for justice: Free Leila now.)

De Lima is now running her Senate reelection campaign from jail, as she has been detained at Camp Crame for the last five years due what she has described as trumped-up drug charges against her. She is the most prominent political detainee under the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte.

De Lima has long been allied with Robredo, who chairs the once-ruling Liberal Party where De Lima is also a member. 

In Robredo’s rallies during the campaign period, a video message of De Lima is usually played on stage before her representatives like her chief of staff Philip Sawali, lawyer Dino de Leon, and former Akbayan representative Tom Villarin speak to the crowd. 

Robredo’s running mate Pangilinan, who is LP president, also called for De Lima’s immediate release on Monday. 

“Palayain na si Senator Leila. Gusto na namin siyang makasama sa miting de avance,” Pangilinan said in a statement. 

(Free Senator Leila. We want to be with her on our miting de avance.)

“Patunay ang limang taon na pagkakakulong ni Senator Leila kung gaano kabulok ang sistema ng hustisya sa bansa. Kung ang isang senador ay puwedeng ipakulong sa gawa-gawang paratang, paano pa ang karaniwang mamamayan? Parang ini-EJK ang katarungan,” he added. 

(Senator De Lima’s five-year incarceration shows just how rotten the justice system in our country really is. If a senator can be jailed for fabricated accusations, what more for ordinary citizens? It’s like an extrajudicial killing of justice.)

A lawyer and human rights activist, De Lima has investigated Duterte in the past over his abusive policies. 

She used to chair the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and was a former justice secretary before winning a Senate seat in the 2016 polls – the same year Duterte was also elected president.

De Lima became Duterte’s primary target after she led a Senate investigation into the extrajudicial killings in his bloody war on drugs just months into his term. 

It wasn’t the first time De Lima had probed deaths linked to Duterte. When she was CHR chair in 2009, De Lima had investigated then-Davao City mayor Duterte for his alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad. 

Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives then launched a congressional probe into De Lima’s supposed links to the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary when she was justice secretary.  

Drug cases filed against her by the same agency she was once helmed later led to De Lima’s arrest on February 24, 2017.

De Lima was originally charged with three counts of conspiracy to engage in the drug trade, but she was acquitted of one count in 2021, and the two remain on trial. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.