MANILA (AFP) – A year after being jailed on charges she insists were concocted to silence her, a top critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says she believes justice is coming.
Senator Leila de Lima has been pursuing Duterte for almost a decade, beginning with allegations he directed a death squad against suspected criminals while mayor of the southern city of Davao.
But now that the International Criminal Court has opened an initial probe into the deadly anti-drug war Duterte launched after becoming president 20 months ago, she says she has new reason to hope.
“I see the day justice will come. I hope for that day. The preliminary examination will eventually get to an indictment,” De Lima told AFP at the national police headquarters in Manila, where she is being held.
“I feel this is the start of my vindication, but true vindication comes when I am absolved of the charges,” added the 58-year-old, who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2017.
De Lima’s detention, which began with her arrest on February 24, 2017, stems from allegations she took bribes from imprisoned drug lords while justice secretary from 2010-2015 under then-leader Benigno Aquino.
The charges are serious enough that no bail is permitted, and it is common for even minor cases to take years to work their way through the Philippines’ creaking justice system.
De Lima says the allegations were cooked up to stifle her criticism of Duterte, and she has earned the support of international legislators as well as rights watchdogs.
Amnesty International considers De Lima a “prisoner of conscience” and in its annual report released yesterday tagged her as “the most prominent critic of the ‘war on drugs’”. “She is a symbol of the coming signs of the times where it will be dangerous for any Filipino citizen to speak out against the government,” Amnesty International Philippines country director Jose Noel Olano told AFP. After being elected to the Senate in the same 2016 election that handed Duterte the presidency, De Lima led an inquiry into the thousands of people killed by police in his anti-drugs war.
But Duterte’s allies in the Senate shoved her aside from the inquiry and subsequently concluded he was not involved in any wrongdoing.
The senator is not being held in the horrific conditions of the Philippines’ jam-packed jails, and is instead in a compound with other high-profile detainees where they have some privileges.