‘Free Leila Now’: Calls for release of De Lima mount online amid Espinosa’s retraction

April 29, 2022 - 5:03 PM
Philippine police escort Leila de Lima, a senator detained on drug charges, on her way to a local court to face an obstruction of justice complaint in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. (Reuters/Romeo)

Human Rights Watch joined some Filipinos in the calls to free Sen. Leila De Lima after years of detention.

The hashtags #FreeLeilaNow and #FreeLeiladeLimaNow previously trended on Twitter Philippines after self-confessed drug trader Kerwin Espinosa recanted his allegations that linked De Lima to the business drug operations at the New Bilibid Prison.

Reports said this retraction and Espinosa’s statement of apology to the detained lawmaker were stated in his counter-affidavit subscribed before the Department of Justice on Thursday, April 28.

In the counter-affidavit, it was specified that “any and all” of Espinosa’s statements during the Senate hearings and in sworn written affidavits against De Lima “are not true.”

“He has no dealings with Sen. De Lima and has not given her any money at any given time. Any statement he made against the Senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation, and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the illegal drug trade,” the document reads.

“For this, [the] undersigned apologizes to Senator De Lima,” it added.

Espinosa previously claimed that he paid De Lima payout drug money through the senator’s bodyguard Ronnie Dayan, alleging that she is connected to the drug trade in NBP.

De Lima has been behind bars for drug charges since 2017. She, however, has never been convicted.

“I have not been convicted, let alone by final judgment, of any criminal offense,” the senator said in October 2021.

Despite being in detention, De Lima continued to perform her duties as a senator and even reaped international accolades.

READ: From behind bars, De Lima keeps reaping international recognition 

Solidarity for De Lima’s release

HRW Philippines, the local office of the New York-based human rights organization, shared on Twitter an artwork of De Lima with a text on her palm that reads: “Free Leila Now.” It also tweeted the hashtag #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow.

In a separate statement, HRW Philippines stated that Espinosa’s recantation should be enough for authorities to release De Lima from police custody.

The group also said that this counter-affidavit “exposed” the Duterte administration’s response to vocal critics of the bloody drug war.

“Espinosa’s revelation exposes how the Duterte administration manipulated the Philippines’ criminal justice system against a sitting senator who was critical of the “war on drugs” and had sought the truth about thousands of killings,” HRW Philippines said.

“This should compel the international community to pursue accountability against President Duterte and those complicit in the ‘drug war; violence,” it added.

Veteran lawyer Theodore Te, also a former Supreme Court spokesperson, called on the justice secretary to direct prosecutors to do the following:

  1. Withdraw the cases against De Lima
  2. Move to dismiss the cases
  3. Not object to her immediate release from detention

Te also said that it would be “decent” for all those responsible and complicit for the senator’s prolonged detention to apologize and resign.

A Filipino claimed that the president wants to silence the senator.

“All because Duterte wanted to silence her from exposing to the world that Duterte is murdering Filipinos with impunity. FREE LEILA DE LIMA NOW!” Claudio Poy tweeted with an angry emoji.

Filipino artists Kevin Eric Raymundo (Tarantadong Kalbo) and Kapitan Tambay, on the other hand, showed their support to the senator through comic strips.

Some Filipinos also expressed regret and apologized for criticizing her and poking fun at De Lima before.

“I’m actually crying. I was once one of her harshest critics. Looking back at my FB posts then, nakakahiya would be an understatement. Sorry, Sen. @SenLeiladeLima! You did not deserve any of these,” one user said.

De Lima’s response

The online movement for her freedom soon reached De Lima.

In a statement, De Lima expressed hopes that truth and justice will soon prevail.

“Nananalig po tayo, sa huli, Katotohanan at Hustisya ang laging mananaig. Maraming maraming salamat po sa lahat ng patuloy na nagtitiwala at sumusuporta kay Senator Leila de Lima,” the human rights champion said.

De Lima also said: “Duterte and his minions used the whole might and abused the power of the government just to destroy and send me to prison. As their power comes to an end, so will their lies, and the truth shall finally set me free.”