By Jomel R. Paguian

SEVEN MORE convicts who testified against former Senator Leila M. de Lima in her drug trafficking cases have recanted their testimonies before a Muntinlupa trial court.

In a three-page handwritten letter to Judge Gener M. Gito dated Nov. 17, the convicts urged the court to void their statements because they were coerced.

“We no longer desire to live our lives with the knowledge that we allowed ourselves to become pawns of instruments of injustice,” according to a copy of the letter provided by Ms. De Lima’s camp. “It will be our way of expressing our sincerest apologies to Senator de Lima and her family.”

Inmates German L. Agojo, Tomas B. Doniña, Jaime V. Patcho, Wu Tuan Yuan, Engelberto Durano, Jerry R. Pepino and Hans Anton Tan joined five other witnesses — Kerwin Espinosa, former jail officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos, Ms. De Lima’s former bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, Rodolfo Magleo and Nonilo Arile — in recanting their testimonies.

They asked the court to order their transfer from the Sablayan Prison and Penal Farm in Occidental Mindoro to ensure their safety.

In a manifestation, Ms. De Lima asked the court to order their transfer to the city jail in Muntinlupa.

“Given the gravity and urgency of the claim, it is moved that the honorable court issue an order for the immediate transfer of the said signatories and be asked to confirm the contents of their letter before the court,” she said.

The trial court on Nov. 13 ordered the release on bail of Ms. De Lima, who was jailed in 2017 on drug charges that she said were fabricated to muzzle her investigation of then President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

Two of the three cases against Ms. De Lima have been dismissed and she had sought bail in the one pending case on health grounds.

A support group for political prisoners at the weekend said most detainees might not get the privilege of bail like the ex-senator.

“The resolution of De Lima’s case is rare and exceptional,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in an interview, citing the challenges faced by detained activists who lack the clout to combat charges.

“It is hard to say that what happened with the dissolution of the case of De Lima would also happen to other political prisoners,” she said. “Many of the political prisoners with trumped-up cases are nameless and faceless. They are not prominent, and it is easier for the government to politically persecute them.”

While the temporary freedom of the former senator is a victory for the political opposition, Ms. Lim said it only gives “a glimmer of hope” for most political prisoners in the country.

“I would not say that this will signal the beginning of massive releases of political prisoners,” she said, citing ongoing threats dissenters face from the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

Ms. Lim said the state continues the oppressive tactics against political activists, such as malicious attacks and red-tagging, which she said started with ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“Nothing has changed because Marcos carried over the whole policy plank of Duterte in targeting the most vocal segment of the opposition,” she said.

There were 777 political prisoners as of Sept. 21, 49 of whom were arrested under the present government, according to Kapatid’s records.

Ms. Lim recounted the arrest of her husband Vicente Ladlad, who was then National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant, in 2018 for illegal possession of firearms. She said her husband, like Ms. de Lima and many other political activists, are victims of trumped-up cases to silence political dissent.

Ms. Lim said her group has been lobbying judicial courts to review fabricated evidence in cases against activists who have been in jail even longer than the seven years of Ms. De Lima.

She cited the case of 84-year-old political prisoner Gerardo dela Peña, who has been imprisoned for nearly a decade.

Ms. Lim noted that like the “manufactured drug charges” against Ms. De Lima, firearms and explosives had been planted as evidence against most political critics.