Inter-Parliamentary Union calls for De Lima’s release, dropping of drug charges

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has called on authorities to immediately release detained Sen. Leila de Lima from detention and drop the drug charges against her.

Sen. Leila de Lima at the Muntinlupa Hall of Justice (Jonathan Hicap / FILE / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a decision adopted by its Governing Council, the IPU it “is deeply concerned that its appeals for Senator de Lima’s immediate release and for charges to be dropped have gone unheeded and that she continues to be detained, more than four years after her arrest, in the absence of any serious evidence; considers that her continued detention and prosecution not only run counter to her basic human rights, but should also be seen as reprisals for her political activities and positions.”

De Lima is facing two cases of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading allegedly committed at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa when she was the justice secretary.

“The IPU has once again called for my release from unjust detention. I hope the Senate leadership responds positively to the IPU call by supporting it,” said the senator, according to her Twitter account.

Three cases were filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against De Lima in 2017. One of the cases, 17-166, was dismissed by Presiding Judge Liezel Aquiatan of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 last Feb. 17 when she granted the senator’s demurrer to evidence, a motion to dismiss the case.

The IPU said “there are multiple, strong signs that the steps taken against Senator de Lima came in response to her vocal opposition to the way in which President Duterte was waging a war on drugs, including her denunciation of his alleged responsibility for extrajudicial killings.” It pointed out “the repeated violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence, the dubious choice of jurisdiction to present the accusations against her, the timing of the criminal proceedings, the amendment of the charges and the reliance on testimonies of convicted drug traffickers, who were either promised favorable treatment in return, subjected to physical intimidation in prison, or had an axe to grind against Senator de Lima as a result of her efforts to dismantle their drug trafficking operations when she was Secretary of Justice, as well as the use of testimonies of criminal law enforcement officers who had been involved in the alleged criminal events that underpinned the charges against Senator de Lima and had clear motives to resent her, and who had been kept in their official positions without facing disciplinary sanctions, let alone charges.”

In addition, the IPU said should the charges not be dropped, an IPU trial observer should be allowed “to continue to monitor and report on respect for fair-trial standards in the cases before Branches 205 and 256 of the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City, including in order to assess if and how existing concerns about the legality and fairness of the proceedings are properly reviewed.”

It also expressed concern that “De Lima has still not been able to benefit from the Senate’s move towards teleconferencing, well over a year after COVID-19 led the Senate to allow for proceedings to take place virtually; considers that the parliamentary authorities can do much more to help ensure that she can fully participate in the work of the Senate and effectively represent the interests of the 14 million Filipinos who elected her, also bearing in mind past initiatives by the Senate in other similar cases, well before teleconferencing was allowed; wishes to know exactly why no further action is being taken to enable Senator de Lima to fully participate in Senate proceedings.”

The IPU also expressed concerns “about limitations imposed on Senator De Lima’s visiting rights and continued lack of access to the Internet, TV, radio, tablet or laptop; regrets furthermore that the authorities have also yet to provide her with an air-conditioning unit, as ordered by her doctor; sincerely hopes that the relevant authorities will finally take the necessary steps to address these matters for as long as she remains in detention; and wishes to be kept informed in this regard.”