#FreeLeilaNow: Why calls to free De Lima trended on social media anew

October 10, 2022 - 1:15 PM
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Leila de Lima and Abalos
Former senator Leila de Lima and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos in her detention facility in Camp Crame in this photo uploaded by Abalos on his Facebook page on Oct. 9, 2022. (Facebook/benhur.c.abalos)

Several personalities and groups once again called for the release of detained former senator Leila de Lima after she became a victim of a “near-death” hostage inside the police’s national headquarters last Sunday.

The former lawmaker was held hostage during an attempted breakout of three inmates linked to terrorist groups from the maximum compound of the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

De Lima said that she was praying the rosary inside her cell on Sunday morning when Feliciano Sulayao Jr, a detainee accused of being a subleader of local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, entered and tied her hands behind her back.

“At sinabihan ako na ‘Ma’am patay na ang [dalawang] kasamahan ko kaya kailangan mo sumama sa akin kasi papatayin din ako,” the former senator recounted.

De Lima said that Sulayao saw that the main outer gate was closed and then dragged her back to the room where she was shoved, blindfolded, and bound by two towels.

“Paulit-ulit niyang sinasabi na patay na ang dalawa niyang kasama at wala daw siyang choice dahil ako lang daw ang paraan na makalabas siya at makatakas,” she narrated.

According to De Lima, Sulayao also told her they have several grievances about how they are treated as detainees, claiming they are treated “like animals” and that the food offered has pork, which is forbidden in Muslim culture.

She then heard PNP Headquarters Support Service Director Police Colonel Mark Pespes attempting to negotiate with Sulayao.

The latter demanded that his requests be made, which included being able to talk to the media.

A few moments later, De Lima heard gunshots and then she was later brought out of her cell.

Sulayao’s accomplices were Idang Susukan and Arnel Cabintoy. Susukan was detained for being an alleged subleader of Abu Sayaff, while Cabintoy was an alleged member of another terrorist group, the Dawlah Islamiyah.

All of them were killed by the police during the incident, while another cop was injured.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr offered De Lima if she wanted to be transferred to a different detention facility but the latter declined and said that she still feels safe in her current detention facility.

The PNP said it is conducting an investigation into the hostage-taking incident, particularly on possible lapses of guards in the Custodial Center.

PNP Chief Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr believes that the primary objective of the detainees was to escape and that they were not after De Lima as a target.

“It might have just been a coincidence that [former] senator de Lima was there, they saw that she was the right cover… because if they really targeted the former senator, they would not have waited for the police officer,” he said.

De Lima, meanwhile, thanked her supporters for the prayers and asked that they also pray for Police Corporal Roger Agustin who was stabbed by the inmates in the process.

‘Unjustly imprisoned’

The incident prompted some personalities, including her political allies, and entities to call for her release since her detention in 2017 under former president Rodrigo Duterte‘s administration.

They used the hashtag “#FreeLeilaNow” which trended on Twitter Philippines.

“From the info we are receiving from SLeila’s [former senator Leila] former staff, the detainee was able to enter the room of SLeila. The detainee was killed inside her room. This is disturbing and traumatic for SLeila. Let’s pray that God continues to protect her.#FreeLeilaDeLima #FreeLeilaNow,” former congressman Erin Tañada tweeted on Sunday.

“[Former] Sen. De Lima should be released on bail immediately. She is not a flight risk and given the state of the evidence, there is every reason to grant her provisional liberty. #FreeLeilaNow,” veteran human rights lawyer Chel Diokno tweeted.

“#FreeLeilaNow! Free all political prisoners!” Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan party-list) also wrote.

“I would also like to reiterate ang matagal na nating panawagan na palayain na si Leila. Palayain na siya mula sa unjust detention na ito at ibasura na ang trumped-up charges laban sa kanya. #FreeLeilaNow,” former congressman Teddy Baguilat tweeted.

“Nananawagan ako sa bagong administrasyon: gawin ang tama sa moral, gawin ang tama sa legal, at palayain na si Leila ngayon. #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow,” opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros wrote on Facebook.

“Ang lala?? #FreeLeilaNow!!!” physician Tricia Robredo, daughter of former vice president Leni Robredo, tweeted upon learning of the hostage-taking incident.

“#FreeLeilaNow!!! We join the call to free Leila de Lima and all political prisoners who were unjustly imprisoned for merely speaking truth to power and fighting for human rights. We also demand a thorough probe [into] the incident inside the PNP headquarters,” the Gabriela Women’s party-list said.

“De Lima has been held hostage by the Philippine government the past five years for her views and human rights advocacy. She should be released from police detention immediately. #FreeLeilaNow,” the account of Human Rights Watch Philippines wrote.

De Lima was detained five years ago over her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as justice secretary.

This was later amended to indicate her involvement in supposed conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

In 2021, De Lima was acquitted in one of the three drug cases she is facing.

The Department of Justice did not drop other charges despite key witnesses recanting their allegations against the former senator, saying the recantations do not affect the cases.

Self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa, former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and her former aide and co-accused Ronnie Dayan, took back their testimonies against her.

De Lima claimed that the accusations were baseless since she said they came after she lead the senate investigations into Duterte’s bloody war against illegal drugs.

She is also a vocal critic of the former president and his policies.

Various human rights groups and local and foreign lawmakers—specifically from the United States—have been calling for De Lima’s release, believing it to be “politically motivated” and based on “bogus charges.”

“Senator Leila de Lima has suffered five years in detention for an alleged crime that key witnesses now dispute,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last May.

“The authorities should immediately drop the politically motivated charges and release her, and impartially investigate the witnesses’ claims that they were coerced to give false testimony,” he added.