Business, civil groups appeal for Sen. De Lima’s release

Published May 4, 2022, 5:22 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Business and civil society groups appealed appealed to the government to reconsider the remaining charges against Senator Leila de Lima following a statement by the European Parliament calling for her immediate releases and witnesses who retracted their allegations against the human rights lawyer.

The groups issued their appeal on the occasion of the fifth anniversary (Feb. 23, 2022) of the arrest and incarceration of the legislator, a former Justice Secretary and Commissioner on Human rights, a lawyer, wife and mother.

“Said charges have not progressed after five long years, and one charge was already dismissed by the courts,” the group said in a statement. The group also cited the European Parliament statement a week earlier, calling for the Senator’s “immediate and unconditional release”.

The groups also cited published reports of Kerwin Espinosa, a self-confessed drug lord and the much-publicized Senate hearing witness against Senator de Lima, who retracted his allegations in a counter-affidavit with the Department of Justice, claiming he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened by the police.”

Subsequently, another news report cited an affidavit notarized on April 30, 2022, where Rafael Ragos, a second witness and former officer-in-charge for the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), alleged that he too had been “coerced” into testifying against the Senator.

“As has been previously said, five years is a painfully long time to wait, for the government, with all the powers of the state behind it, to prosecute its case against any citizen,” the groups said.

In light of the recanted statements of said witnesses and in deference to the constitutional right of an accused to speedy trial, the groups urgently appeal that “appropriate action be immediately taken to resolve the case at the earliest possible time.”

“Our Constitution holds sacred every citizen’s fundamental rights to liberty and due process, and these rights form the very foundation of the just and humane society we seek, as we rebuild our post-pandemic economy and strengthen the confidence of the international community,” the statement concluded.

Nine organizations signed the appeal, namely, Makati Business Club, Filipina CEO Circle (FCC), Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), Integrity Initiative Inc. (II. INC.), Judicial Reform Initiative (JRI), Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) , Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN), The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS), and Women’s Business Council Philippines, Inc. (WomenBizPH).