Vindictiveness, int’l rights group says of raps vs De Lima
Criminal court proceedings begin Monday on drug charges against Sen. Leila de Lima that the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had condemned as “an act of political vindictiveness.”
“It’s more important than ever that concerned lawmakers and foreign governments step up to denounce the Duterte administration’s disregard for basic human rights,” Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director, said in a statement on Sunday.
Sought for comment, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the criminal cases brought against De Lima were based on documentary evidence and testimonies of witnesses.
“There is absolutely no basis for the claim that the cases were politically motivated. This government will prosecute any person regardless of their influence or relationship with the officials running the government,” Panelo told the Inquirer over the phone.
“This government will apply the law on whoever is involved (in criminal activities),” he stressed. “It’s up to the court to decide whether (De Lima) should be convicted or acquitted.”
The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) is set to raffle off today the case to any of its branches. Depending on the appreciation of the assigned branch of the merits of the case, an arrest warrant could be issued immediately or within a period of 10 days.
On Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the complaint against De Lima, alleging that she violated Section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which penalizes—from 12 years to life imprisonment—the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.”
“The prosecution of Sen. Leila de Lima is an act of political vindictiveness that debases the rule of law in the Philippines,” Kine said.
The case against her, Kine said, “shows how Mr. Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ threatens not only the thousands of people targeted, but also the criminal justice and political systems.”
De Lima has been critical of Mr. Duterte when she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, saying he was behind a Davao City death squad of criminals when he was still the city mayor.
As a senator, she also incurred the ire of Mr. Duterte when she raised the possibility of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects by the police. More than 7,000 people have been killed in the drug war, including 2,200 in police operations.
Mr. Duterte and his allies have accused De Lima of being a coddler of drug lords and held her responsible for the alleged proliferation of the illegal drug trade at New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, where the case against her was filed on Friday.
De Lima has denied the accusations against her aired in congressional inquiries and later in a DOJ inquiry that she said was illegal because only the Office of the Ombudsman had the power to investigate public officials like her.
However, the DOJ has said the case filed had nothing to do with her office but her personal acts.
The Court of Appeals on Feb. 11 dismissed De Lima’s petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the DOJ from prosecuting her on grounds she was an elected official.
The appeals court instead ordered the DOJ to respond to her petition within 10 days on which she was given 10 days to reply.
The Liberal Party said it would rally behind its beleaguered colleague.
“As a way to ensure her safety should she be detained, we will be ready to provide our support and presence,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the LP president, said in a text message.
Pangilinan said he was concerned about De Lima’s safety. “Considering how inmates end up being stabbed to death inside the maximum security prison supposedly tightly guarded by the police, who wouldn’t be,” he said.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said on Sunday in radio interviews that the Senate would honor an arrest warrant against De Lima.
However, this had to be done outside the Senate halls and not while De Lima was attending a session, Pimentel said.
De Lima has said she expects to be thrown in jail, calling the case against her “plain and simple political persecution.”
De Lima is also facing charges of indirect bribery and violation of the antigraft law, which the DOJ is asking the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate.
In going to the Muntinlupa RTC, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II explained De Lima’s alleged offenses were not related to her functions as justice secretary. He expressed confidence that De Lima would be convicted. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS
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