November 15, 2023
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) joins in the celebration of the release on bail of Senator Leila de Lima, who has suffered six years and eight months as a political prisoner at the hands of the Duterte and Marcos Jr administrations.
“We share the joy and relief that Senator de Lima herself displayed on her release last Monday,” said Peter Murphy, recently re-elected ICHRP Chairperson. “Senator de Lima’s case has been emblematic of the failure of the Philippines’ judiciary to uphold basic standards of due process and respect for the rule of law under Duterte and now Marcos Jr.
“As of November 2023, there are 791 political prisoners languishing in Philippine jails on blatantly trumped-up charges. We call for the Marcos Jr administration to be consistent with the release of Senator de Lima and junk the fake charge remaining against her, and all the trumped-up charges against all these freedom-loving political activists. They must be freed now,” said Mr Murphy.
Senator de Lima, who was arrested at the Senate in February 2017, had been very critical of the implementation of Mayor Duterte’s drug war campaign in Davao City while she was Justice Secretary under the previous administration of President Benigno Aquino III. She continued to criticize the nationwide anti-poor drug war campaign that President Duterte launched in July 2016, by initiating an investigation in the Justice and Human Rights Committee in the Philippine Senate of the purported Duterte “death squads” in Davao City.
The Justice Department, then led by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, countered by accusing the Senator of using drug money from the prison system for her election campaign in 2016.
De Lima was removed from her Senate leadership positions. The Philippine House of Representatives then launched an investigation where convicted drug personalities gave testimony that they allegedly paid off the Senator, leading to her arrest on three drug trafficking charges on February 24, 2017.
Her arrest and detention, and the increase in red-tagging cases, whose targets were subsequently detained or killed, instilled a climate of fear and intimidation among politicians and public figures.
Senator de Lima was subjected to a massive and persistent vilification and disinformation campaign. No less than President Duterte, presidential spokespersons Harry Roque and Sal Panelo, and their political allies, along with operators and Duterte fanatics in mainstream and social media, targeted her with utterly foul, misogynistic and nonsensical remarks and tirades. Fake news, videos, and other sources of false information were circulated without let-up.
Courts dismissed these false charges against her one after the other. In April 2022, Kerwin Espinosa, a prime witness against de Lima, recanted his statement, saying he was coerced by death threats against his family. His father, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr, was murdered on November 15, 2016, just prior to the crucial Senate hearing arranged by de Lima. The third charge against Senator de Lima is still pending.
The release of Senator de Lima on bail may be part of a pattern of decisions by the Marcos Jr administration to distance itself from the toxic reputation of the Duterte administration.
“We urge President Marcos Jr to make a clear break with his predecessor by re-joining the International Criminal Court. We further urge the Philippine President to rescind anti-people policies and laws including the 2017 Memorandum Order 32 which put Negros, Bicol and Samar under virtual martial law, Executive Order 70 which set up the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) that drives the red-tagging and subsequent political killings nation-wide, and the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Law, which gives free rein to Executive violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” concluded Mr Murphy.
Further comment: Peter Murphy, Chairperson, ICHRP Global Council`+61 418 312 301