By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

GOVERNMENT prosecutors are trying to delay former Senator Leila M. de Lima’s trial for drug trafficking after they sought to reopen the case to present a new witness, human rights experts said at the weekend.

“The motion shows that the government will do everything to keep her in jail despite the lack of evidence and the earlier statements of the Department of Justice secretary (DoJ) that the former senator can move to file bail,” Fides M. Lim, convenor of political prisoner support group Kapatid, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“Is Leila de Lima also an enemy of the current administration that it is in their interest to keep her in jail?” she asked.

DoJ spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

State prosecutors last week asked a trial court to reopen a drug trafficking case against the former lawmaker so they could present a new witness. The case is supposed to be decided on May 12.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla in February said his agency would not oppose a bail plea by Ms. De Lima, one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s fiercest critics.

Four witnesses have recanted their testimonies about her involvement in the illegal drug trade. They all claimed to have been coerced by the government of Mr. Duterte to fabricate stories against Ms. De Lima.

“Obviously, it is a belated attempt to plug a hole in the prosecution’s case,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), said in a Viber message.

He said government prosecutors should have asked the Muntinlupa trial court if it could present a new witness before it agreed for the case to be decided on.

“Ultimately, it is within the court’s discretion to allow the prosecution’s motion,” he added.

A delegation of European Union (EU) lawmakers visited the Philippines in February and urged the government to release Ms. de Lima to show its commitment to human rights.

“Releasing Senator Leila de Lima, who is detained on bogus charges, and the Philippines returning to the International Criminal Court are moves that we expect from Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP +) countries,” Hannah Neumann, vice chairperson of the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights, told a press briefing in Makati City on Feb. 24.

The European Parliament in February last year passed a resolution asking the Philippines to act on human rights abuses or face losing trade perks under GSP+.

GSP+ requires the Philippines to uphold commitments to 27 international conventions on human rights, labor, good governance and climate action.

Amnesty International in February urged the Philippine government to drop what it called “fabricated charges” against Ms. de Lima, who has been in jail since 2017. It said the state violated her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention.

One of the three-drug charges against her has been dismissed, while two are pending in court.

Ms. de Lima has asserted her innocence, saying she was being tried for criticizing the government’s deadly drug war.

Last year, the Ombudsman cleared the former senator and her former aide of bribery charges for lack of evidence.

In 2016, Ms. De Lima led a Senate probe into vigilante-style killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was still mayor and vice mayor of the city. She was arrested a year later after allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade.

EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore made a similar call last month, asking the government to drop what her supporters call trumped-up drug trafficking charges.

“Senator Leila de Lima, who is a human rights and social rights champion, should be released without further delay,” Mr. Gilmore tweeted on March 29.