MANILA (AFP) – Jailed Philippine human rights campaigner Leila de Lima was briefly taken hostage yesterday during an attempted breakout by three inmates who were shot dead by police, authorities said.
The incident happened at the national police headquarters, where de Lima, a former senator, has been held for more than five years with other high-profile detainees.
One police officer was stabbed with an improvised knife before another officer shot dead two of the inmates, police said in a statement.
The third prisoner ran to de Lima’s cell and briefly held the 63-year-old hostage before he was also shot dead.
Police said de Lima was not hurt and that the situation inside the detention facility had “returned to normal”. An investigation was under way.
Police chief General Rodolfo Azurin told local radio station DZBB that de Lima did not appear to have been the target.
“They saw her as an ideal cover. Their intention really was to escape,” he said.
The three inmates were reportedly members of the militant group Abu Sayyaf, which has been accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.
De Lima was unhurt, Boni Tacardon, her lawyer, confirmed to AFP.
“She was brought to the hospital for the standard medical check-up,” Tacardon said.
“But based on the information given to us by our staff who’s with the senator now, she appears okay.”
De Lima, a critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war, is due to reappear in court today.
She has been behind bars since 2017 on drug trafficking charges that she and human rights groups have called a mockery of justice and payback for going after Duterte.
Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took power in June, there have been renewed calls from diplomats and rights defenders for de Lima to be released.
The latest incident underscored the need for her to be “freed immediately”, said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.
Marcos tweeted that he would speak to de Lima “to check on her condition and to ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention centre”.