Vice President Leni Robredo, former President Benigno Aquino III, activists, and NGOs are all calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to free jailed Senator Leila de Lima, who marks her 1,000th day of detention in a police camp today.
De Lima, a vocal critic of Duterte, was jailed in February 2017 after she was accused by the Philippine government of extorting money from jailed drug convicts back when she was secretary of the Department of Justice. The money, the government claimed, was used by De Lima to fund her senatorial campaign in 2016.
De Lima has denied the allegations — which are based solely on the testimony of the convicts in question — and has said the charges were Duterte’s way of getting back at her for criticizing his bloody anti-drugs campaign. Just months before her arrest, in her capacity as head of the Senate’s committee on justice and human rights, de Lima had opened an investigation into the numerous suspicious killings taking place under the auspices of Duterte’s newly minted drug war.
International organizations like Human Rights Watch have also said the charges against the senator are politically motivated.
In an advertisement published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer, an organization called the Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. De Lima, described the senator’s detention in Quezon City’s Camp Crame as “wrongful and indefinite.”
“Given the dubiousness of the charges against Senator Leila M. de Lima and the indubitable violations of her rights, we urge the Government of the Philippines to immediately free Senator Leila de Lima, and to drop the charges against her,” the group said in its statement.
“Remedying Senator de Lima’s situation without delay is a demonstration to the Filipino people and the international community that the Philippines can still stand with the rest of the world in defense of freedom and human rights,” it added.
The statement has 300 signatories, including Robredo, Aquino, Commission on Human Rights Chairman Chito Gascon, human rights lawyer Rene Saguisag, several members of the European Parliament, and Philippine senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Pangilinan.
Meanwhile, in a video message sent to de Lima, Vice President Robredo said the former’s detention is “one of the biggest setbacks in human rights and judicial system in our country.”
“A thousand days had passed, but our call will only grow louder until it is heard by those who play deaf: to junk the false charges against Senator Leila and set her free immediately,” the vice president said.
On Monday, the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, de Lima’s international legal team, appealed to the human rights experts of the United Nations to participate in the campaign to get the senator out of jail.
“Sen. De Lima’s unjust detention is emblematic of the systematic persecution of any perceived opponents of the Duterte administration, particularly those speaking out against the mass killings, which have mostly targeted the urban poor,” the group said.
“With the Duterte administration silencing Sen. De Lima and all domestic and international investigations into the [drug war] killings, there is little hope for justice without our collective support,” it added.