MANILA, Philippines - Facing possible arrest on drug charges, Sen. Leila de Lima yesterday joined thousands in a rally against the death penalty and extrajudicial killings in Rizal Park and vowed to continue denouncing alleged abuses by an administration determined to silence her.
“For as long as I can, I will continue to fight. They cannot silence me,” De Lima said in an interview over GMA News at the rally organized by the Council of the Laity of the Philippines and supported by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. “I’m here with the people because of our shared thoughts and opinion, shared views and shared convictions,” the senator said.
The “Walk for Life” rally attended by De Lima came a day after the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed three illegal drug cases against her before the Muntinlupa City regional trial court (RTC).
She said the drug charges were meant to silence her, as she had been very vocal against the Duterte administration’s bloody approach to fighting the drug menace.
It was Duterte’s quest for “personal vendetta,” she said, that motivated his officials to have her prosecuted – and possibly put behind bars – on drug charges.
“There’s no other reason because I’m innocent and not at all involved in the drug trade. So these are all trumped-up charges,” she said. Her possible arrest is the price she has to pay for “standing up against the butchery of the Duterte regime.”
As chair of the Commission on Human Rights during the Arroyo administration, De Lima had initiated an investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings of lawbreakers in Davao City when Duterte was still its mayor.
The Manila Police District estimated the Rizal Park crowd yesterday at over 10,000. For Vice President Leni Robredo, the filing of drug charges against De Lima was plain political harassment.
“Anyone who committed a crime, whether a member of the party or not, must face prosecution,” Robredo said in an interview with ANC’s Headstart on Friday. “But if you look at the cases filed against Senator Leila, all of those came out when she started investigations on extrajudicial killings…
It was apparent that it was already political harassment and apparent that she is being intimidated because of what she wanted to do with regards to the investigation,” Robredo added. The Vice President also expressed alarm over reports that the inmates who testified against the senator were given special privileges.
“It is alarming that a member of Congress is subjected to this type of harassment. What more if (it is) an ordinary individual?” In its resolution, the DOJ dropped the charges against the inmates and said that they would utilize them as state witnesses.
Robredo said she herself has been warned that the administration might get back at her for her opposition to some of its policies and actions.
In a statement, the Liberal Party (LP) condemned the “patently illegal filing of criminal cases” against De Lima before the RTC of Muntinlupa City. De Lima ran for the Senate last year under the LP. LP said the Sandiganbayan, not the RTC, has jurisdiction over the cases leveled against the senator.
“This filing before the RTC is clearly an attempt to undermine our court processes. It is an underhanded maneuver meant to go after critics, regardless of legal bases or processes. This purely political vendetta has no place in a justice system that upholds the rule of law.
This is condemnable,” the LP said. We reiterate that an arrest based on trumped-up charges is illegal,” it added. The LP appealed for impartiality in the handling of De Lima’s case, noting that she has already been prejudged by the administration.
The LP also said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II should inhibit from any cases filed against De Lima.
“We assert that the ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over cases against public officers cognizable by the Sandiganbayan. Violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which is the DOJ’s case against Sen. De Lima, falls under ‘other offenses committed by public officials’ listed in the Sandiganbayan Law,” the LP said.
“We maintain that if this warrant of arrest is served, it would be a clear violation of legal proceedings and is therefore a violation of her Constitutional right to due process,” it added. In a separate statement, Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV also denounced the filing of charges against De Lima based only on testimonies from “some of the worst criminals in our country.” “And while all of this is being done, government spends its resources trying to acquit the mastermind of the pork barrel scam.
Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. But it is our new reality,” Aquino said. “This act of brazen harassment and perversion of our justice system should not be tolerated,” he added. Sen. Risa Hontiveros, for her part, said that the filing of charges against De Lima was “an act of pure harassment and mockery of the country’s justice system.”
“I believe that this is the culmination of a more than half a year campaign of sexism and misogyny against Sen. Leila de Lima. It is a blow to our collective aspiration to uplift the dignity of women,” she said.