A MUNTINLUPA trial judge on Thursday recused himself from the last drug trafficking case against former Senator Leila M. de Lima to erase doubts of bias.
Judge Abraham Joseph B. Alcantara, who acquitted her in a separate illegal drug case in May, granted the motion of government prosecutors.
“The undersigned presiding judge will exercise prudent discretion and voluntarily desist from hearing the case not because the prosecution’s assertion is true, but to put to rest any questions against his credibility, integrity and fairness,” according to a copy of his order.
He ordered the Muntinlupa Clerk of Court to reassign the case as soon as possible.
State prosecutors on Wednesday asked the magistrate to inhibit himself from the case, arguing that his acquittal ruling casts doubt on his impartiality.
Ms. De Lima, 63, and another defendant were acquitted of the charges for reasonable doubt. The main witness, former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, took back his testimony against her.
The former senator, who was arrested in 2017 and accused of taking drug money months after leading a Senate investigation into former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs, originally faced three charges and was also cleared in one case in 2021.
Last month, Ms. De Lima appealed the court’s denial of her bail plea.
Four witnesses have retracted their testimonies against the former lawmaker, claiming that the previous government had coerced them into testifying against her.
State prosecutors had appealed Ms. De Lima’s acquittal in May despite the double jeopardy rule, which prevents someone who has been acquitted from being charged with the same crime.
In a letter dated June 29 addressed to President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla, members of the European Parliament renewed their call for the lawmaker’s release.
“We fully endorse the demands made by United Nations experts on June 16, 2023, urging your government to conclude permanently Ms. De Lima’s case, provide appropriate compensation and reparations, and thoroughly investigate the circumstances that led to this unjust situation in the first place,” according to a copy of the letter signed by lawmakers Hannah Neumann, Raphael Glucksmann, Heidi Hautala, Miguel Urban Crespo and Isabel Wiseler-Lima.
The letter was posted on Ms. Neumann’s Facebook page.
A delegation of lawmakers from the European Union Parliament visited the Philippines in February and urged the government to release Ms. De Lima to show its commitment to human rights.
Mr. Remulla told a news briefing on Thursday he would not meddle with the court’s handling of Ms. De Lima’s drug case.
Ms. De Lima incurred Mr. Duterte’s ire when, as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, she started a probe in 2009 into extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad in the tough-talking leader’s hometown, where he was the long-time mayor. Mr. Duterte later vowed to “destroy” her.
Mr. Duterte’s drug war is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible “crimes against humanity.”
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 insufficient evidence.
Political experts have said her detention showed how the government had abused the justice system.
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. — John Victor D. Ordoñez