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Duterte urged to set De Lima free after favorable testimony

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Leila M. De Lima
PHILSTAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

MINORITY senators on Sunday urged the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to release an opposition lawmaker critical of his deadly war on drugs after an expert witness said there was no evidence linking her to the illegal narcotics trade.

“The fraudulently concocted evidence against Senator Leila de Lima is crumbling,” Senators Franklin M. Drilon, Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel and Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement on Sunday.

“This will pave the way for her eventual exoneration and long-deserved freedom,” they added.

In an Oct. 23 hearing, a digital forensic examiner from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reportedly testified that there was no evidence from extraction reports linking Ms. de Lima to the illegal drug trade.

Ms. de Lima is on trial for allegedly abetting the illegal drug trade in the country’s jails when she was still Justice secretary. She was accused of extorting millions of pesos from a drug lord that she allegedly used to finance her senatorial campaign in 2016.

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She has been jailed at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame since February 2017. Several witnesses against Ms. de Lima were drug convicts serving time at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City.

The European Union (EU) Parliament earlier adopted a resolution urging the Philippines to free Ms. Lima and look at extrajudicial killings in Mr. Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. The EU lawmakers also asked the European Commission to revoke tax perks enjoyed by the country if the state fails to address human rights violations.

An Anti-Money Laundering Council investigator also said investigations found no money flowed from the bank accounts of the senator and her co-accused.

“With these statements made in court under oath, the credibility of these two agencies is at stake, thus, their representatives had no reason not to tell the truth,” the minority senators said. “Senator de Lima’s accusers are merely clutching at straws in a desperate attempt to pin her down for a crime she did not commit.”

The Committee for the Freedom of Leila M. de Lima on Saturday also urged the government to allow her to post bail and drop the drug charges.

A local human rights group made a similar call. “Clearly, the charges against Senator Leila de Lima are baseless and fabricated by those who want to silence her voice and let lies and tyranny reign in the country,” Christina Palabay, human rights group Kaparatan secretary-general said in a Messenger chat.

“Especially with these statements by prosecution witnesses, she should be released now,” she added.

Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said the Duterte government has used the law to harass critics like Ms. de Lima and other political prisoners. 

“This continuing weaponization of the law and legal processes by the Duterte administration against its critics and the opposition should be condemned,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo said minority senators should let the courts decide on Ms. de Lima’s fate.

“Let the law take its course,” he said in a Viber message on Sunday. “Let the court do its job. Let the rule of law prevail.”

The senator earlier asked the court to let her post bail since the prosecution had failed to prove her alleged drug transactions by omitting details of the crime such as the specific drugs involved, the buyers and sellers and the place where the trade took place. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Gillian M. Cortez

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