On June 7, 2023, a Philippine court rejected the application for bail of former opposition senator Leila de Lima. When she criticised human rights violations in the so-called “war on drugs” of then President Rodrigo Duterte, she was then falsely accused of drug trafficking by the Duterte government. For more than six years, de Lima has now been held in police custody as a political prisoner.
Philippine human rights groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan expressed disappointment at the denied request for release on bail. So did the human rights organisation Karapatan, which clearly condemned de Lima’s case as politically motivated due to the lack of evidence and retracted testimonies.
De Lima’s hopes for release were already high when the second of three charges against her was dropped by a Muntinlupa City court on May 12, 2023, due to the withdrawal of an incriminating witness statement. Although Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla then praised the functioning of the Philippine judiciary, the Department of Justice (DOJ) subsequently appealed the court’s ruling. In it, the DOJ questioned the recantation of the incriminating testimony sworn under oath against de Lima.
After de Lima’s six-year wait for a court verdict, the Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) ordered on May 18, 2023, the relevant court to conclude her trial within nine months. De Lima’s lawyers are preparing to appeal the decision to deny her bail petition.
Although prosecutors were able to prove the existence of drug trafficking in the New Bilibid prison, their efforts to implicate de Lima failed as her one-time key witness recanted her testimony. Carlos Conde from Human Rights Watch does not see de Lima’s recent acquittal as a sign that the legal system is functioning. However, it there is hope that de Lima’s imprisonment could be ended sooner – a hope that is necessary to continue to demand her immediate release and an end to the ongoing politicisation of the Philippines’ justice system.
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