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Second Philippine judge quits trial of jailed Duterte critic

MANILA (AFP) – A Philippine judge quit the trial of jailed human rights activist Leila de Lima yesterday, less than three weeks after another judge stepped down over accusations of bias.

De Lima, an outspoken critic of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his anti-drug war, has been in jail for more than six years on narcotics-related charges she insists were fabricated to silence her.

The 63-year-old is accused of taking money from inmates inside the largest prison in the Philippines to allow them to sell drugs while she was the justice minister from 2010 to 2015.

Two of the three charges have been dismissed.

Judge Abraham Alcantara was assigned to preside over the third trial after the previous judge quit on June 16 following accusations of bias, which he denied.

Alcantara had acquitted de Lima in May on the second drug trafficking charge. State prosecutors sought his removal from the current trial on the grounds that he would “carry over his perceptions”.

In his ruling issued yesterday, Alcantara rejected their reasoning but granted their motion to remove himself from the case to “put to rest any questions against his credibility, integrity, and fairness”.

A court hearing scheduled for today was cancelled, Alcantara said.

The case will be assigned to another Manila judge via a raffle and a new trial date set.

Before her arrest, de Lima had spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor and in the early days of his presidency.

Multiple witnesses, including prison gang bosses, died or recanted their testimonies, resulting in the dismissal of two charges against her.

The mother of two still faces life in prison if she is convicted on the remaining charge.

PHOTO: FREEPIK
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