By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter
THE DISMISSAL of one of the two remaining drug trafficking charges against former Senator Leila M. de Lima, one of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s staunchest critics, showed how the government used the law to harass critics, according to political experts.
“Her delayed acquittal shows how corrupt and weak our justice system and institutions are,” Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat at the weekend. “If they can do this to a senator, imagine what they can do to an ordinary citizen.”
Justice spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.
A Muntinlupa court on May 12 acquitted Ms. De Lima and her former aide of drug trafficking charges, citing reasonable doubt.
The former lawmaker, who has been detained since 2017, faces one more illegal drug case. A trial court dismissed her first drug case in 2021.
Four witnesses have taken back their allegations against Ms. De Lima, all claiming to have been coerced by the government of Mr. Duterte to fabricate stories against her.
Ms. De Lima had applied for bail based on those retractions, for which the court had yet to rule. Her first application for bail was denied in 2020.
The former senator has asserted her innocence, saying she was being tried for criticizing the government’s deadly drug war. Last year, the Ombudsman cleared her and her former aide of bribery charges for lack of evidence.
The Department of Justice would not oppose a bail plea by Ms. De Lima, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla said in February.
“The acquittal is crucial in the sense that it proves the point that these are contrived cases and judges cannot find any justification to convict her,” Ephraim B. Cortez, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said in a Viber message.
He said the recent acquittal would not affect the court’s decision on the third drug trafficking case since it is based on a different set of facts.
“However, since the third case is also a contrived case, it cannot survive judicial scrutiny, just like what happened to the first and second cases,” Mr. Cortez said.
Amnesty International on Friday said the trial court’s decision was “long overdue.”
“We urge the authorities to also quash the remaining drug case and to ensure that her application for temporary freedom in this pending case is processed speedily and fairly,” interim Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer said in a statement.
The global watchdog in February said the state violated her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention.
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.
At least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June 2021. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.
Mr. Duterte’s drug war is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible “crimes against humanity.”
“Don’t forget, she has been robbed of her liberty, was denied of years of service as a senator, and constantly maligned and ridiculed for a crime that was only made up by the Duterte government,” Mr. Aguirre said.