MANILA, Philippines — The National Union of People's Lawyers on Friday played down Sen. Leila De Lima's arrest on drug charges, saying there are other political prisoners in jail "for far nobler causes."
In a statement, NUPL, which represents activists, farmers and peace consultants, said that it is "disgracefully hypocritical to glamorize or romanticize a transitory intra-elite sordid ordeal even as it has all the appearances of political harassment, corruption of legal and judicial processes, selective punishment and abuse of transitory power."
De Lima and her allies in the Liberal Party have characterized the charges against her as politically motivated. She has denied that she received money from the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison to finance her senatorial campaign in 2016 and has said she is being persecuted for being critical of the Duterte administration.
"We must put a sense of proportion and look at things in a holistic perspective," NUPL said.
NUPL said that hundreds of political activists were jailed, "mostly under the previous administration", and that "there are already 30 under the present dispensation who are lesser known, powerless activists, farmers, indigenous peoples, social workers and peace consultants arrested brazenly in the dead of the night for political reasons."
NUPL said that it is unfair to "selectively obscure hundreds of faceless names" who had been jailed for political reasons, especially those who were imprisoned during the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. De Lima was Aquino's Justice secretary.
National Democratic Front peace consultants Benito and Wilma Tiamzon were arrested during the Aquino administration. The military claimed they are top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army.
They were released on bail for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the CPP-NPA-NDF in August 2016.
Talks broke down in February after the both sides canceled unilateral ceasefires. Among the reasons that the NPA gave for lifting its ceasefire was the government's failure to release close to 400 political prisoners.
NUPL said the political prisoners "were thrown to decrepit and squalid jails on false charges, keys thrown away, for far nobler causes without the glare of the floodlights or excessive publicity hype."
The group said that once the supposed hype over De Lima's arrest dies down, "the fundamental problems of our society, the cries of the poor and oppressed, and the need for genuine reforms including consistently upholding the rule of justice without fear or favor remain."