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Duterte Drug War Critic Released On Bail After Six Years In Jail For Imaginary Crimes
Former Philippine Senator Leila de Lima wanted an investigation into the former President's drug war. She was jailed instead.
Former Philippine Senator and world-renowned human rights activist Leila de Lima has been released on bail after six years in pretrial detention for a crime she did not commit.
De Lima, 64, is a prominent critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” and all of the extrajudicial killings, assassinations of local officials, death squads and child murder that have gone along with it. In 2017, after encouraging the Philippine Congress to do an investigation into all of this, she was arrested on charges related to drug trafficking. She has been in jail awaiting trial since then.
“It pains me to be jailed without doing anything wrong,” de Lima said upon her release. “And I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. But I don’t want to be sad or bitter today. This is a moment of triumph.”
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De Lima is a lawyer and prominent liberal, who previously served as the chairperson of the nation’s Commission on Human Rights, and as the Secretary of Justice in President Benigno Aquino III’s cabinet prior to being elected to the Philippine Senate.
While two of the charges against her were dropped after the “witnesses” came forward and said they were threatened by police to lie, de Lima is still expected to go to trial on the final charge of allegedly drug trafficking to fund her Senate campaign. De Lima has repeatedly insisted she is not guilty of any of the charges and was only arrested because of her criticism of Duterte (which very much seems to be the case).
During her time in jail, de Lima has received multiple humanitarian awards from practically every human rights organization out there, all of which have also demanded her release. This includes Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Liberal International, and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
In 2017, shortly after her arrest, the European Parliament issued a statement condemning the extrajudicial killings and demanding her release over “serious concerns that the offences Senator de Lima has been charged with are almost entirely fabricated.”
In response to her release, Luc Véron, the EU ambassador to the Philippines issued a statement on social media: “A significant step for #RuleOfLaw in the [Philippines]! A positive turn in the pursuit of justice! I hope that resolution of the remaining charges will be accelerated”
That sure would be nice!
OK, But How Bad Was Duterte, Actually?
Very, very bad!
Duterte initially came to power as the mayor of Davao City, where he first kicked off his brutal campaign against drugs and crime. According to human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Duterte partnered up with the Davao Death Squad, best known for going around killing street children, drug dealers and those accused of petty crimes. The vigilante group is estimated to have killed 1,020 and 1,040 people from 1998 to 2008.
One of the first things he did as president was to give a speech encouraging citizens to just get on out there and start killing drug dealers and addicts, offering a bounty for their bodies.
Duterte claimed that human rights are a “Western” concept from which the Philippines are exempt, and that therefore it is totally fine for them to kill all of the criminals. Inconveniently for Duterte, the death penalty has been illegal in the country since 1987, so these have all had to be extrajudicial killings. The official number, according to Philippine police records, is around 7,742, although international human rights groups estimate that it is actually closer to 12,000.
Where Is The US On This?
I haven’t been able to find anything from our government specifically about de Lima’s imprisonment, but that’s not terribly surprising, given that Trump was president throughout most of this (also because we’d sound a little like hypocrites, criticizing another country for locking people up for years without a trial).
However, Barack Obama did once get into it a little bit with Duterte.
Duterte was, naturally, notoriously tetchy about criticism of his human rights abuses. While the US and the Philippines have historically had good relations, they went cold for a bit during the Obama administration. Before a meeting was set to take place, Duterte called President Obama a “Son of a Whore” after the latter very gingerly brought up his War on Drugs, hinting that perhaps human rights are a good thing.
“You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements. Son of a whore, I will curse you in that forum,” Duterte said in response to a reporter’s question about what he would say to Obama should the topic of extrajudicial killings come up again. “We will be wallowing in the mud like pigs if you do that to me.”
The meeting did not end up happening.
Unsurprisingly, things really heated up under the Trump administration, to the point that Duterte literally sang love songs to his fellow authoritarian leader.
Duterte is out of office now, and current President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. (yes, the son of the shoe lady) has met with Vice President Kamala Harris and is reportedly trying to normalize relations with the US. It would be nice if this lead to more prisoners of conscience incarcerated on trumped up charges being freed, but we probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.
This whole situation feels especially pertinent right now, given Donald Trump’s recent comments about how he wishes to conduct his own Duterte-style War on Drugs.
If you have a minute today, I recommend watching de Lima’s post-release press conference. Truly, she is an incredible woman.
We don’t have to live like that, but we will if Trump has anything to say about it. Let’s hope he never does.