2 US senators hail De Lima acquittal; ‘not interested,’ says Duterte
MANILA, Philippines — Two United States senators on Friday (Washington time) added their voices to expressions of support from abroad for former Sen. Leila de Lima after she was cleared from one of two remaining drug charges filed against her by the previous administration of Rodrigo Duterte.
Meanwhile, the former president issued a statement on Saturday saying that he respected the court ruling in De Lima’s favor.
“The judgment of the court should be accepted. Frankly, I’m not interested in the outcome of the case as I have nothing to do with it,” Duterte said.
“I have never interfered with the judicial process. I always say let the law take its course.”
Sen. Dick Durbin congratulated De Lima on Twitter for her acquittal from the “always bogus charges” she faced, as the Democratic senator from Illinois described the cases against her.
He said her legal victory was “long overdue.”
“After six years in jail, she should be released without any further delay,” said Durbin, whose staff visited De Lima at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in December last year.
Earlier in August, Sen. Edward Markey and four other US lawmakers were able to visit De Lima upon the approval of the two branches of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court that were then hearing her remaining drug cases.
On Friday, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts said on Twitter: “I am incredibly happy to see this long-overdue step toward justice for Philippine Senator Leila de Lima. She’s been imprisoned in life-threatening conditions for far too long. It’s time to drop the remaining charge … and bring her home.”
Markey was referring to the time, only two months after his visit, when De Lima was held hostage by Abu Sayyaf suspects who were later taken out by police snipers.
Following the case
De Lima has chosen to remain detained at the PNP Custodial Center despite the government’s offer to have her transferred elsewhere. A number of foreign observers have been following De Lima’s drug cases, including diplomats posted here.
“Welcome progress on this important case during the 75th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rule of law and access to justice are foundational to democracy. @CanEmbPH will continue to follow developments closely,” Canadian Ambassador David Hartman posted on Twitter on Friday.
German Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel said also on Twitter that her country “will continue to follow the remaining case in which Leila de Lima filed a petition for bail.”
De Lima, who had been critical of Duterte’s human rights record, was jailed on his watch in 2017 when three counts of conspiracy to commit drug trade were also filed against her and were raffled to three branches of the Muntinlupa court.
But in 2021, Branch 205 dismissed the case presented to that court against De Lima, followed by her acquittal on Friday by Branch 204.
Branch 256 is hearing the third and last case, in which she is accused of collecting drug money for her 2016 senatorial campaign.
The former senator and justice secretary faces life imprisonment if convicted of the remaining charge.
In December 2020, De Lima petitioned the court for bail, citing the prosecution’s weak evidence and testimonies.
In February of the next year, the prosecution presented two witnesses, convicted murderer, and gang leader Joel Capones and convicted kidnapper Noel Martinez.
But Martinez, that same month, said he had no personal knowledge of De Lima’s alleged drug transactions, while Capones later denied, under cross-examination by her lawyers, that he was involved in any such transactions with De Lima.
On Jan. 27, De Lima filed a second petition for bail. But on May 8, the court deferred its ruling on the petition after noting “inconsistencies” in the markings of the prosecution’s latest evidence, which De Lima’s lawyers acknowledged as an “honest mistake.”
Her chief counsel Boni Tacardon said he expects the resolution for the pending bail petition by June.