‘Justice rendered, albeit late’: De Lima acquittal prompts louder calls for her release

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
�Justice rendered, albeit late�: De Lima acquittal prompts louder calls for her release
Supporters of detained former Sen. Leila De Lima call for her release as Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 prepared to read its decision on her second drug case on May 12, 2023. She was acquitted.
Philstar.com / Xave Gregorio

MANILA, Philippines — Rights groups and minority lawmakers have regained hope for a sweet end to the long campaign to free former Sen. Leila De Lima after her acquittal in one of her two remaining drug cases on Friday.

After six years of incarceration over what has been described as “political persecution” by the state, the former senator walked out of court saying that the decision is an “answered prayer” — one that several groups have echoed in calling for her release.

This is after Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 acquitted De Lima in the second drug case against her — the same case where the prosecution star witness retracted what he said were his false allegations against the former senator.

This draws to a close the second drug charge against the fierce Duterte critic, which was filed in early 2017. She was acquitted in one case in 2021, while one more case is pending.

Rights group Karapatan welcomed De Lima’s acquittal from one of the “malicious charges” against her and reiterated its call for the Muntinlupa court to grant her bail petition for release.

De Lima has been “detained and pilloried” by the Duterte administration for the past six years yet has continued to speak out against his alleged crimes, the group said.

The group also called to release all political prisoners like De Lima who have been “persecuted because of their work and beliefs on human rights and social justice.”

Amnesty International’s interim Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer also welcomed the decision and called on authorities to ensure De Lima's speedy release in her application for temporary release, saying that the former senator should not have "spent a single day in jail."

Ferrer said: “The partial acquittal of prisoner of conscience and human rights defender Leila de Lima was long overdue. While justice has been slow for her, it follows years of arbitrary detention and other human rights violations she has had to endure."

Beyond De Lima's acquittal, Ferrer said the Marcos administration "must work towards holding accountable those responsible for her arbitrary detention, which clearly violated her rights to liberty, presumption of innocence and other fair trial guarantees.”  

Minority lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) also welcomed De Lima's acquittal, saying: “Justice is rendered, albeit late.”

Similarly, Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela Women's Party) said that the decision confirms that the charges against De Lima have been fabricated.

"We press on with the demand to free all female political prisoners who like De Lima had been slapped with trumped up charges," Brosas said.

De Lima has already asked that the court handling her third case allow her to post bail, but a resolution has yet to be released. Her lawyers said they hope that the court resolves their plea for provisional freedom soon.

If granted, De Lima will be released from detention. — With reports by Kristine Joy Patag

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