Business groups air plea for De Lima on her fifth year in jail
MANILA, Philippines — Six business organizations are calling on the Duterte administration to “reconsider” the remaining charges pending against Sen. Leila de Lima as the opposition lawmaker marks her fifth year in jail on Thursday.
The following groups issued on Wednesday a joint statement on the matter: the Makati Business Club, the Integrity Initiative, the Judicial Reform Initiative, the Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and the Women’s Business Council Philippines
They said the remaining cases against De Lima have not progressed after five years. That should have been “adequate time for the government, with all the powers of the state behind it, to prosecute its case against a citizen whose contact with lawyers, family, supporters and the outside world they have severely curtailed.”
They said the courts already dismissed one case a year ago and “by reconsidering the remaining two charges, the government may be doing justice, however belatedly.”
“It would also be a step toward improving the country’s reputation for upholding the rule of law, which is a foundation for a safe society and a growing, inclusive economy,” they added.
Detained since 2017
A staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, De Lima has been detained since February 2017 on charges filed in three different branches of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The government has accused her of involvement in the illegal drug trade in New Bilibid Prison.
On Feb. 17 last year, De Lima was acquitted in Criminal Case No. 17-166, after the court granted her demurrer on grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors was insufficient for a conviction. Her nephew, Jose Adrian Dera, was a co-accused in the case.
In June 2021, Judge Liezel Aquiatan inhibited herself from hearing Criminal Case No. 17-165, where De Lima and her former aide Ronnie Dayan were accused of conspiracy to commit drug trading.
It was Aquiatan who dismissed one of the drug cases against De Lima (Criminal Case No. 17-166) after approving her camp’s demurrer to evidence.
Aquiatan was the fifth judge to voluntarily inhibit from any of the senator’s three drug cases.
A total of 10 judges have handled the controversial cases since 2017, with the last nine inhibiting themselves, choosing early retirement, or getting transferred to another court.
The other case against De Lima — for conspiracy to commit drug trading case (CCN 17-167) — is being heard by Judge Romeo Buenaventura of Muntinlupa RTC 256.
Seeking reelection in the May polls, De Lima said her unjust detention and political persecution fueled her desire to continue fighting.
She kicked off her campaign relying heavily on proxies, prerecorded video messages, and statements from her detention room at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center.
“Given my situation as PDL (person deprived of liberty), my reelection bid is, in real and palpable terms, handicapped or disadvantaged,” she wrote in a recent dispatch from Camp Crame.
She is running under the senatorial slate of the Robredo-Pangilinan presidential tandem.
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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