Philippines: Vice President Speaks Out After President Duterte’s Number One Critic Jailed

Vice President Leni Robredo criticized the government for what she calls “political harassment” against Sen. Leila De Lima. File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday decried what she called “political harassment” by the administration against Sen. Leila De Lima.

In a statement, Robredo said that De Lima’s arrest Friday was part of a political agenda and not a result of an “independent, unbiased” legal process.

Robredo said that De Lima’s political harassment began soon after she started an investigation into the extrajudicial killings that transpired in the wake of the administration’s anti-drugs campaign.

“The arrest of Senator Leila de Lima is the latest move in a persistent campaign of political harassment being waged against a duly-elected member of Congress,” the vice president said.

De Lima turned herself in to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group led by Chief Superintendent Roel Obusan on Friday morning after spending the night at her office in the Senate. A Muntinlupa court issued a warrant for her arrest on drug charges Thursday afternoon.

Robredo said authorities used contradicting testimonies from “criminals”—testimony against her came from New Bilibid Prison inmates whom she allegedly collected money from for her senatorial campaign in 2016—and undermined due process to hasten the issuance of the arrest order against De Lima.

Although charges were filed by the Department of Justice, arrest warrants are issued by courts, which are part of a separate branch of the government.

Robredo invited the public to “religiously” follow and scrutinize De Lima’s case.

Robredo called on the public to continue fighting for the right to speak contrary views, which she said is the foundation of the country’s strength as a free and democratic nation.

“Our history as a nation is marred by instances where government officials use the processes of criminal justice to cow, silence, and eliminate critics,” the vice president said.

Robredo continued: “We cannot, and we must not, stand by and let this happen again. We must make sure that our government institutions remain uncorrupted and independent of each other, particularly when it comes to checks and balances in pursuit of accountability.”

LP senators: We fear for her life and security

De Lima’s Liberal Party colleagues at the Senate meanwhile said that they are worried for De Lima’s safety in government custody.

“We fear for Senator Leila’s life and security given what happened to Albuera Mayor [Rolando] Espinosa and Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo who were both killed in police-controlled facilities,” Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan and Bam Aquino said in a joint statement.

Espinosa was killed in November while police were serving a warrant to search his cell at a Leyte provincial jail. Espinosa, father of alleged drug lord Rolan “Kerwin” Espinosa, had been in police custody over drug and firearms charges. Police said he fired at them, forcing them to shoot back.

Jee Ick-joo, meanwhile, was abducted and killed in by rogue police officers under the guise of an anti-drug operation last October. PO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, a suspect in the case, allegedly called Jee’s wife to demand ransom even though the businessman had already been killed.  Jee was killed in Camp Crame, the national police headquarters.


Leila de Lima, Critic of Duterte, Is Arrested in the Philippines

MANILA — A Philippine senator who had been the leading domestic critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody antidrug campaign was arrested Friday on charges that she took bribes from imprisoned drug traffickers.

The senator, Leila de Lima, has denied the charges, describing them as political persecution. A Philippine court ordered her arrest on Thursday, and she went home Thursday night to say goodbye to her family.

Speaking to journalists on Friday before she was led away, Ms. de Lima was combative. “These are all lies,” she said of the charges. “The truth will come out at the right time. If they think they can stop me from fighting these daily murders, they are wrong.”

Ms. de Lima has been a fierce opponent of Mr. Duterte’s crackdown on users and sellers of narcotics, under which thousands of people have been killed by the police or by vigilantes since Mr. Duterte took office in June. Last year, a Senate panel led by Ms. de Lima heard testimony from a professed hit man, Edgar Matobato, who said he belonged to a death squad that had been overseen by Mr. Duterte when Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao City.

Soon after that testimony, Ms. de Lima was removed from her post as chairwoman of the Senate panel. Another committee, in the Philippine House of Representatives, soon began hearings at which imprisoned drug kingpins testified that they had given Ms. de Lima bribes through her driver and bodyguard, Ronnie Dayan. Mr. Dayan testified that he had collected the money on the senator’s behalf.

Embarrassing details of a romantic affair between Mr. Dayan and Ms. de Lima were also disclosed at the hearings, in what the senator called part of a campaign by the Duterte administration to harass and silence her.

The charges against Ms. de Lima were brought by the Philippine Justice Department, which is headed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, a fraternity brother of Mr. Duterte who presided over the House hearings. The Justice Department says that Ms. de Lima used the drug money for her Senate campaign last year, and that the inmates who gave it to her received special privileges in return.

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