[Joint Open Letter] The Philippines: Drop the remaining politically motivated charges against Leila de Lima and grant her immediate release
24 May 2023 2:14 pm
Open Letter to the Government of the Philippines:
Drop the remaining politically motivated charges against Leila de Lima and grant her immediate release
To: Ferdinand Marcos Jr., President of the Republic of the Philippines
- Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines
- H.E. Mr. Evan P. Garcia, Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Office and other international organisations at Geneva
- Atty. Richard Paat Palpal-latoc, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights
- Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- H.E Aileen S. Mendiola-Rau, Philippines AICHR representative
- H.E. Ambassador Luc Véron, Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines
We, the undersigned organisations, welcome the acquittal of Leila de Lima, former Senator and chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, on one of her two remaining politically motivated charges on 12 May 2023 by a Muntinlupa court.
De Lima–a staunch critic of former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s gross human rights violations– was arrested on 24 February 2017, a week after the Department of Justice filed three charges against her under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and a day after a Manila court issued her arrest warrant. De Lima was accused of taking money from inmates inside the National Bilibid Prison in Metro Manila’s Muntinlupa City in exchange for allowing them to sell drugs while she served as Justice Secretary from 2010 to 2015. These accusations, however, are believed to be a fabricated and coordinated effort to persecute her.
De Lima’s arrest is in violation of her constitutional rights as a sitting senator and in contravention of international human rights law. The arrest is purely based on politically-motivated charges, following her senate investigation into the thousands of extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s ‘war on drugs.’
Despite a lack of evidence against de Lima, she has already spent six years in detention at the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) alongside other high-profile detainees.
On 30 November 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the detention of Senator De Lima was arbitrary given the absence of a legal basis and the violation of international standards on the right to a fair trial. De Lima’s detention was the result of her exercising her right to political participation, freedom of opinion and expression, and her status as a woman human rights defender.
During six long years of detention, de Lima has bravely and continuously spoken against Duterte’s crimes, all while her health was deteriorating.
In April 2021, after experiencing bouts of headaches and persistent generalised weakness, two Muntinlupa courts granted her a 3-day medical furlough check-up at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital for a suspected mild stroke and one-day medical furlough for her routine check-up. On 9 October 2022, three convicts allegedly linked to local terrorist groups stabbed a police officer and held de Lima hostage inside her cell at the PNP Custodial Center before being rescued.
Urgent Call to Action
De Lima should never have been detained in the first place.
The arbitrary detention and mistreatment of former Senator de Lima reflect the Duterte administration’s judicial harassment of human rights defenders as well as the Philippines’ shrinking civic space. Nearly a year after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in June 2022, de Lima’s case remains stagnant. The slow progression of the case demonstrates both the previous and current Philippine administrations’ unwillingness to seek justice and accountability.
Up to this day, deLima remains imprisoned for speaking truth to power. This is despite the fact that she should have not been imprisoned in the first place, not even a single day.
FORUM-ASIA alongside its reputable Philippine member organisations urge your Excellencies 1) to immediately and unconditionally drop the remaining politically motivated charges against de Lima; 2) to request the Muntinlupa court to grant her bail petition for release; 3) and to provide compensation and other reparations for the human rights violations she was made to endure.
Philippine authorities should release and allow de Lima to be reunited with her loved ones after six long years.
We demand the immediate release of de Lima and all other political prisoners who have been persecuted for their work and beliefs in human rights and social justice.
We sincerely hope you heed this urgent plea.
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
- Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (Balaod Mindanaw)
- Karapatan Alliance Philippines (KARAPATAN)
- Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism (Dakila)
- Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights (LILAK)
- The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
- Human Rights Online Philippines (HRonlinePH)