De Lima, Duterte critic detained on drug cases, will seek reelection in 2022

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
De Lima, Duterte critic detained on drug cases, will seek reelection in 2022
Sen. Leila de Lima has been detained since February 24, 2017 for allegedly having a hand in the proliferation of drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as justice chief.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:49 p.m.) — Sen. Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of President Rodrigo Duterte who has been detained for over four years on drug cases that she says are meant to persecute her, will seek reelection next year. 

A statement released by the senator's office confirmed this, noting that the "political persecution" of De Lima has only "strengthened her resolve to fight for her advocacies." 

"I will run again. I will not give up. The fight continues," De Lima is quoted as saying in Filipino. 

De Lima was acquitted earlier this year in one of three drug cases against her. The two others remain pending in separate courts. 

She was first arrested and detained on February 24, 2017, less than a year into her term as senator. As of this writing, she has spent 1,608 days at the Philippine National Police Headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City. 

In that time, she has not been allowed to participate in Senate hearings. 

Even after the upper chamber shifted to holding hybrid sessions due to the pandemic, the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205 in June denied De Lima's request to participate in online hearings. 

This, despite De Lima's assertion that she is still in full possession of her civil and political rights, noting that the cases filed against her are still at the trial stage and she has yet to be convicted of any crime. 

State prosecutors initially charged De Lima with drug trading, but they later amended it to accuse the senator of conspiracy to commit drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison. They allege that she perpetrated the crime when she was justice secretary during the Aquino administration.

In the last four years, five judges have voluntarily inhibited from De Lima's case, according to her office. Two others opted for early retirement. 

De Lima, a former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, is a vocal critic of Duterte's flagship campaign against illegal drugs. Duterte has occasionally lashed out at the senator during public addresses.

Government data shows that 6,089 suspects have died in official operations since July 2016. Rights groups estimate that the number of fatalities could be as high as 30,000. 

READ: ICC prosecutor wants to probe Philippines ‘crimes against humanity’

"First of all, there is no political persecution," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino after being asked about De Lima's statement later Wednesday. He said that that De Lima is being tried for the "the heinous crime of drug trading [and] drug pushing" and not a politically-related crime.

Addressing her reelection bid, Roque said that seeking a public post is "her right while she is not yet convicted with finality." 

"Hopefully she will not be convicted with finality before the election," he added. 

Drilon, Hontiveros back De Lima's reelection bid 

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a statement endorsed De Lima's reelection bid, calling it "a fight for truth and justice." 

"In the face of her four-year ordeal, she has never shown weakness," Drilon said of the detained senator. "She bravely continues to call out the administration’s inadequacy and speak out on issues that matter to the Filipino people." 

"Fierce and unyielding, Senator Leila de Lima is a leader and a fighter we need today." 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros at an online briefing with reporters again decried what she called the "unjust detainment [of De Lima] over cases that are not progressing because there is no evidence." 

She also said she would support De Lima and her reelection bid next year. 

Sens. Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan, members of the Senate minority bloc, have also previously confirmed that they will be seeking reelection in 2022. Drilon earlier this month ruled out seeking the presidency and said he will likely retire after his term expires next year. 
Sen. Joel Villanueva, a member of the Senate majority, has said that he will likely be gunning for a spot in the upper chamber again. 

"That is the plan but we don't want to close doors [to other posts] and the filing [of certificates of candidacy] is still in October," he told ABS-CBN in Filipino on July 15. 

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