Leila de Lima’s lawyers say she’s interested in helping ICC
MANILA, Philippines — Former Sen. Leila de Lima may coordinate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is investigating former President Rodrigo Duterte for alleged crimes against humanity that were committed in the conduct of his war on drugs.
“I’m sure [she] will be very much interested since based on her statement last night during the press conference, she will continue with her advocacy on human rights and the rule of law. This case is a test case on human rights and the rule of law and justice,” one of De Lima’s lawyers, Boni Tacardon, told the Inquirer in an interview on Tuesday.
Another member of her legal team, lawyer Dino de Leon, noted that the former senator was among those who had initiated an investigation into the drug war and may be able to contribute to the ICC probe.
“She is, of course, interested in continuing the work that she has started. And again, if there is a need for her to become a resource person, or [turn over] all the pieces of evidence that she may have or that her committee was able to secure during that point in time (before being detained), she’s willing to furnish it to the ICC or to any investigating authority for that matter,” he said in a separate interview.
“[Former] Senator De Lima believes in the rule of law, democracy, and human rights, and her quest was and always has been to actually make sure that human rights violations will not happen in the Philippines. And she tried her best as a senator which is why she was politically persecuted,” De Leon added.
But Tony La Viña, a key member of the former senator’s legal team, was more cautious when asked about De Lima’s possible coordination with the ICC. “I cannot comment on that. I don’t know what the plan is on that. I mean, the case in the ICC is very advanced already and so I don’t know if her involvement is needed at all,” he said.
‘Rebuild my life’
In 2009, De Lima, as Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair, led an investigation into the so-called Davao Death Squad, which was blamed for the murders of suspected drug pushers and criminals in Davao City where Duterte was the mayor. Despite recovering bones from what was believed to be a “mass grave,” no charges were filed against anyone.
On Aug. 22, 2016, De Lima, as chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, started an inquiry into the killings and questionable police operations under Duterte’s drug war.
Days later, Duterte produced a so-called matrix to support his allegation linking her to the drug trade at New Bilibid Prison while she was justice secretary. The Department of Justice subsequently filed three criminal cases against De Lima, leading to her arrest in 2017. She was acquitted in two of the cases in 2021 and 2022, and on Monday, the court hearing the third and final case allowed her to post bail, leading to her temporary release after almost seven years in detention.
Tacardon, however, emphasized that De Lima was also “focusing on rebuilding herself,” a subject she touched on during a press briefing just hours after she gained her freedom.
“They destroyed my life, that’s why I’m going to rebuild my life now. They destroyed or ruined my name, my reputation. Now that I’m free, I’m going to work hard to redeem my name and complete vindication is the key,” she told reporters on Monday.
‘Guarantee her safety’
As for De Lima’s legal situation, La Viña told the Inquirer: “The next steps are obviously to have this final case dismissed because [bail has been granted]. There is no legal battle to speak about anymore. To be honest, this is just going to be formalities from now on.”
De Leon expressed a similar sentiment, saying the team was confident that the last case against her would be dismissed because of her innocence.
“Right from the very start, all of these cases are manufactured, characterized as political persecution,” he said.
On her first day as a free woman, De Lima visited the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Manaoag in Pangasinan province on Tuesday morning to fulfill a vow she made to herself while in detention.
Some devotees who saw her told the Inquirer that there was no fanfare during her visit, adding that she “quietly prayed” inside the church for a few minutes.
Although her visit took place shortly before a 10 a.m. Mass, churchgoers said she left before it started.
Following her release, rights watchdogs urged the Marcos administration to make her safety a priority, saying she remains a target of verbal and possibly physical attacks.
Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director, noted how the former senator was targeted by the state for being critical of Duterte’s war on drugs that left thousands dead.
He said that De Lima should not have been jailed in the first place on the basis of “fabricated” drug charges as he urged the government to protect her.
“We… call on the Marcos administration to ensure her safety as she regains temporary freedom,” he said in a statement, recalling how De Lima was taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf members at her detention cell in Camp Crame in October 2021.
“The government must now guarantee her safety, security and protection as she remains the target of vilification and threats,” Olano added.
Karapatan also expressed concern for De Lima’s safety as the rights group pointed to political prisoners who were targeted after their release from jail, with some ending up dead.
“All former political prisoners, like former Senator De Lima, they are still in a dangerous situation because the threats—open and overt threats—have not clearly dissipated,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay told the Inquirer.
She said it was “not impossible” that Duterte might get back at his critic, considering her “many exposés” on the numerous cases of extrajudicial killings under the drug war during his presidency, in addition to those allegedly carried out by the DDS.
“That is why it is important that there should be accountability. Former President Duterte, along with his cohorts who cheered [him] on and encouraged and allowed that kind of travesty of justice to [happen] to Senator De Lima, should be made accountable,” Palabay stressed.
The CHR vowed to continue to monitor De Lima’s case as it described her release on bail as a “notable development after almost seven years in detention.”
US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement: “The United States welcomes former Philippine Senator Leila de Lima’s release on bail after nearly seven years of detention on politically motivated drug charges. Senator De Lima’s release follows her acquittal in two out of three cases.”
Ambassadors MaryKay Carlson of the United States, David Hartman of Canada, Luc Veron of the European Union, Laure Beaufils of the United Kingdom and Hae Kyong Yu of Australia have also issued statements supporting De Lima.