Vindication for De Lima as last drug case junked

Vindication for De Lima as last drug case junked

Vindication for De Lima as last drug case junked

WHAT LIES AHEAD Former Sen. Leila de Lima says her fight against all forms of injustice and oppression will continue now that she has regained her full freedom. —Grig C. Montegrande

MANILA, Philippines — Former Sen. Leila de Lima, a fierce critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, has been cleared of all drug charges filed against her by the previous administration.

On Monday, Judge Gener Gito of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) granted her demurrer to evidence filed on March 20 in her last remaining case, marking a turning point in what her supporters had branded a politically motivated ordeal.

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A demurrer is a motion to dismiss a case filed by an accused on grounds that the evidence presented by the prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction. Once granted, it is considered an acquittal by the court.

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READ: Leila de Lima acquitted in 2nd drug case

“The prosecution was not able to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” wrote Gito, citing a lack of evidence to establish a conspiracy between De Lima, former Bureau of Corrections Director Franklin Jesus Bucayu, and other codefendants to engage in illegal drug trading within New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

READ: Court dismisses 1 of 3 De Lima drug cases

De Lima was also exonerated in two separate disobedience cases by the Quezon City RTC Branch 76.

In a six-page decision signed by Judge Renato Pambid on May 30 but released only on Monday, the Quezon City court granted her petition for certiorari, effectively overturning the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court’s earlier dismissal of her motion to quash these charges.

The cases, which had lingered alongside the more prominent drug cases, were rooted in allegations that De Lima had instructed her former aide Ronnie Dayan to ignore a 2016 congressional subpoena during drug-related hearings, were the final legal hurdles she faced.

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‘Unmitigated freedom’

With this ruling, De Lima has now been cleared on all fronts, cementing her complete legal vindication after more than seven years.

Emerging from the Muntinlupa court and facing a sea of cameras and microphones with her lawyers, De Lima’s face broke into a smile as she told reporters, “Of course, I’m happy,” finally tasting her first moments of what Gito called “unmitigated freedom” in seven years.

READ: After 6 years, De Lima free as court okays bail

“I feel an enormous sense of relief and happiness right now,” De Lima said. “You know, with the grant of our demurrer to evidence […] that means I am now completely free and vindicated.”

She added: “It’s very liberating. I respected the rule of law, despite the pain, despite the injustices of it all. I confronted the charges head on, and I went through and endured the whole process.”De Lima had been detained since 2017 on drug-related charges that she had steadfastly denied and which her legal team had called “trumped up.”

As she addressed the press, De Lima minced no words about the man she holds responsible for her incarceration.

“To former President Duterte, you will now be held accountable for your sins against the people,” she declared. “I am just one victim. Thousands of Filipinos were killed during your bloody and fake war on drugs. Many families were orphaned.”

Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who filed the drug charges against De Lima, said he had expected the cases to be dismissed.

“That has been expected for a long time. As I said before, I am happy for this development, as she [has] suffered enough already,” Aguirre said on Monday.

Fight not over

De Lima said that she was working with the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates and tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community, among them genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crimes of aggression.

Despite the years lost, De Lima’s spirit appears unbroken.

Still smiling, she told reporters: “After seven years, I am more prepared to continue the fight.”Asked about her future plans, including a potential return to the Senate, De Lima was coy.

“I have no decision yet,” she said. “I’m still really adjusting to my life. There are many engagements and I’m sorting through them.”

However, De Lima, the spokesperson for the Liberal Party, made it clear that her fight for justice was far from over.

Alleged drug links

She added that “this is such a meaningful triumph for me also because it coincided with the third death anniversary of former President Benigno Aquino III,” under whose administration she served as justice secretary.

In 2009, De Lima, then chair of the Commission on Human Rights, led the probe of the so-called Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group blamed for the killings of suspected drug pushers and criminals in Davao City.

On Aug. 22, 2016, De Lima, as senator and chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, started an inquiry into the killings and questionable police operations under Duterte’s war on drugs.

Days later, however, Duterte produced a so-called matrix to support his allegation linking De Lima to the drug trade.

In September the same year, De Lima filed a Senate resolution asking the United Nations to come to the Philippines and look into what she called “unprecedented phenomenon of extrajudicial killings and summary executions” in the country due to the fight against illegal drugs.

On the same day, De Lima was removed as chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights.

On Feb. 24, 2017, a week after the Department of Justice filed criminal charges against her, De Lima was arrested.

In February 2021, Branch 205 of the Muntinlupa RTC granted De Lima’s demurrer to evidence in Criminal Case No. (CCN) 17-166.On May 12, 2023, due to the recantation of the prosecution’s key witnesses, De Lima was acquitted in CCN 17-165, where she was accused of receiving at least P5 million in December 2012 from the proceeds of the alleged drug trading at NBP.

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On Nov. 13, 2023, De Lima was granted permission by a Muntinlupa City court to post bail for her third and last case following the recantation of several prosecution witnesses. —with reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Inquirer Research

TAGS: De Lima drug cases, Rodrigo Duterte

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