Court Clears Philippine Rights Activist De Lima Of Last Drugs Charge

Court clears Philippine rights activist de Lima of last drugs charge

Manila, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 25th Jun, 2024) Philippine human rights campaigner Leila de Lima was cleared of all criminal charges on Monday, ending years of legal battles for one of the most vocal critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war.

The former senator and justice minister had spent a decade investigating "death squad" killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte until she was arrested in 2017 and spent more than six years in prison.

"I am now completely free and vindicated. It's very liberating," an emotional de Lima told reporters as she emerged from a courtroom in southern Manila.

The 64-year-old vowed that Duterte would not go scot-free for the drug war killings as well as her imprisonment.

"This is my message to the former president, Mr Duterte: Now it's your turn to answer for your sins against the people."

De Lima had been freed on bail in November last year, having earlier been cleared of two other drugs charges.

The last case concerned allegations she took money from inmates inside the country's largest prison to allow them to sell drugs while she was justice minister from 2010-2015.

"The prosecution was not able to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt," regional trial court judge Gener Gito wrote in his verdict, acquitting de Lima and four other defendants of illegal drug trading.

- Payback -

De Lima was a sitting senator when she was arrested in 2017 and spent more than six years in jail while on trial for the three drug trafficking charges.

She described the cases as payback for her efforts to investigate Duterte's drug war, first as head of the government's independent human rights body, then as justice minister and during her term as a senator.

She had maintained that the charges, which carried a maximum penalty of life in prison, were fabricated to silence her criticism of Duterte's narcotics crackdown that left thousands dead.

Multiple witnesses, including prison gang bosses, died or recanted their testimony during the lengthy trials.

Also dismissed on Monday was a second charge alleging de Lima had persuaded a former employee to ignore a 2016 summons issued by the House of Representatives for a hearing on the trade of illegal drugs in Philippine prisons.

The ruling said de Lima had been denied her "right to a speedy trial" as guaranteed in the Philippine constitution, having spent 2,321 days in jail while on trial in the final case.

That was the only other remaining criminal proceeding against her, her lawyers said.

The United States, the Philippines' treaty ally and former colonial power, welcomed the acquittal.

"We continue to urge the Philippines to resolve politically motivated cases, including those against journalists and civil society, in a manner consistent with its international human rights obligations and commitments," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Before her arrest, de Lima spent a decade investigating Duterte's drug war during his time as mayor of the southern city of Davao and early in his 2016-2022 presidency.

Thousands of drug suspects were killed by police and unknown gunmen in a campaign that became the centrepiece of Duterte's rule, a crackdown that critics described as state-sponsored extrajudicial killings and is now a subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

De Lima said Monday she will continue to help the tribunal in its probe.