‘#FreeLeilaDeLimaNow’: Hopes for De Lima’s freedom spring anew as court acquits her in 2nd drug case

May 12, 2023 - 12:50 PM
Supporters of former senator Leila de Lima chant "free Leila now" outside the the Hall of Justice where she was acquitted of drugs charge in Muntinlupa City, Philippines, May 12, 2023. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Hopes for former senator Leila de Lima to be fully acquitted of her drug-related charges resurfaced through the hashtag “#FreeLeilaDeLimaNow” following her victory in two of the three cases filed against her by the Duterte administration.

The 63-year-old former opposition senator on Friday, May 12 was acquitted by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 in the second drug charge against her in relation to conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading.

De Lima was specifically acquitted over allegations that she received P10 million drug money from former Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos and her aide Ronnie Dayan to fund her 2016 senatorial bid.

READ: Muntinlupa RTC acquits De Lima, top critic of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’

Ragos, the prosecution star witness, recanted his testimony against the former lawmaker last year after claiming he was coerced by then-justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

Ragos admitted that he was threatened with detention for illegal drug trading if he would not execute affidavits against De Lima.

His retraction at that time came days after confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa also recanted his own allegations against the ex-senator, saying he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated, and seriously threatened.”

De Lima was acquitted in her first drug case in 2021 by the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 for insufficient evidence.

While De Lima has so far secured victory for two drug cases, another court, the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256, has yet to release its resolution about her petition to post bail.

If granted, the former senator and former justice secretary would be released from detention after being detained since February 2017.

Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256 is handling the case of De Lima where state prosecutors accused her of tolerating the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison‘s maximum security compound from 2013 to 2015 as justice secretary.

Meanwhile, calls to grant her freedom were renewed on social media following her acquittal from her second drug case.

“Acquitted! And vindicated! One more case and she is free. Let there be justice! #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow,” museum researcher Kristoffer Pasion commented.

“ACQUITTED! One down… One to go!!!!! I have faith in the justice system! #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow #LabanLeila #LeiLaya #LeiLayaNa #MalapitNa,” lawyer and former congressman Erin Tañada III wrote.

“Justice trumps lies and ex-cathedra fakeries. We trust that the remaining trumped-up charges against her should also be resolved soon. #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow #FreeAllPoliticalPrisoners,” public interest lawyer and former congressman Carlos Zarate tweeted.

“Good morning, we’re getting there #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow,” a Filipino commented to the reports.

United States Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, also expressed hope that De Lima would be granted freedom.

“I welcome stronger ties between the U.S. and the Philippines, but they should also include an end to former Senator Leila de Lima’s politically motivated jailing,” he wrote on May 2.

De Lima earned former president Rodrigo Duterte‘s ire for her investigations as lawmaker over the reported extrajudicial killings made under his “war on drugs,” his administration’s flagship campaign.

The campaign has been heavily criticized for reportedly perpetrating vigilante-style killings of suspected illegal drug users who Human Rights Watch said were mostly of the urban poor.

De Lima also probed into the reported killings of the Davao Death Squad or DDS as chairperson of the Commission of Human Rights, where self-confessed member Edgar Matobato claimed they took orders from Duterte.

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

Human Rights Watch described De Lima’s prosecution “an act of political vindictiveness” since she is one of Duterte’s most vocal critics.

During Duterte’s first year in office, he vowed to “destroy” a female government official after saying he has been the favorite whipping boy of rights groups for the longest time.

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