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Court sets De Lima free, dismisses last drug case

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Former senator Leila de Lima was acquitted in the last remaining criminal charges against her, ending years of legal battles for one of the most vocal critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war.

Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 206 Judge Gener Gito on Friday granted De Lima’s demurrer in her last remaining drug case.

The former justice secretary had spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte until she was arrested in 2017 and spent more than six years in prison.

“I am now completely free and vindicated. It’s very liberating,” an emotional De Lima told reporters as she emerged from the courtroom.

“Despite the pain and injustice of it all, I went through it and endured the whole process.”

The 64-year-old De Lima vowed that Duterte will not go scot-free for the drug war killings as well as her imprisonment.

“This is my message to the former president, Mr Duterte: Now it’s your turn to answer for your sins against the people,” she said.

“I’m only one of the victims. Thousands of Filipinos were murdered during the bloody and fake ‘drug war.’ Many families lost loved ones. For those who weren’t killed, they were left languishing in jail because of the incorrect and twisted enforcement of the law. I’m one of those who have experienced unjust imprisonment,” De Lima added.

De Lima had been freed on bail in November last year, having earlier been cleared of the two other drugs charges.

De Lima’s counsel, Filibon Tacardon, said the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

In her petition filed in March, De Lima asked the court to dismiss the last drug case against her.

The third and final case alleged that she accepted bribe money from convicted drug lords at the New Bilibid Prison during her term as justice secretary to finance her senatorial campaign.

She has consistently denied any involvement in the illegal drug trade, asserting that she was a victim of political persecution due to her opposition to human rights abuses and killings associated with the drug war.

She had maintained that the charges, which carried a maximum penalty of life in prison, were fabricated to silence her from criticizing Duterte’s narcotics crackdown that left thousands dead.

Multiple witnesses, including prison gang bosses, died or recanted their testimonies during the lengthy trials.

Also on Monday, the court dismissed another charge alleging De Lima had persuaded a former employee to ignore a 2016 summons issued by the House of Representatives for a hearing on the alleged trade of illegal drugs in Philippine prisons.

That case, the only other criminal proceeding against her, had carried a penalty of anywhere between a fine and six months in prison.

Senator Risa Hontiverso said the dismissal of De Lima’s third and last case “proves that justice is based on truth and evidence, not on baseless charges and political motivations.”

“We need to focus our attention on those who have wrongly accused her. False charges compromise not only the accused’s reputation but also the integrity of our legal system. We call upon the authorities to pursue and hold accountable those who have perpetuated these unfounded allegations,” Hontiveros said.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said the dismissal of the case “Indicates that, despite the apparent flaws in the Philippine justice system, its judiciary remains independent.”

“While we welcome this news, we also recognize that justice still needs to be served to not only Senator de Lima, but also to the countless other victims of the Philippines’ so-called ‘war on drugs.’ Therefore, we reiterate our call for Philippine authorities to open a thorough investigation into Senator de Lima’s arbitrary detention and hold all those responsible for this gross miscarriage of justice responsible,” APHR said in a statement. With AFP

Editor’s Note: This is an updated article. Originally posted with the headline De Lima cleared of all drug cases


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