Philippines ex-president Rodrigo Duterte’s critic De Lima acquitted in drug case

Leila De Lima, the Philippine’s former justice minister and one the fiercest critics of ex-president Rodrigo Duterte, was acquitted by a court on Friday in a case in which she was alleged to have taken kickbacks from drug dealers.

The 63-year-old will not be released from jail as another case is pending before the court. She faced three drugs cases, of which two, including the Friday’s, have been dismissed. De Lima had been in detention for the past six years.

De Lima was charged in 2017, just shortly after she launched a senate investigation into Duterte’s “war on drugs”, during which thousands of users and dealers were killed, many by police or in mysterious circumstances.

It has been alleged that she was falsely charged as she went after the ex-president. Many human rights groups had considered her a political prisoner.

At that time, Duterte had repeatedly accused her of being involved in the drug trade during televised speeches, which De Lima dismissed as a vendetta.

“Thank you, thank you, more prayers,” De Lima said as she emerged from the courtroom, in live-streamed comments, reports Reuters news agency.

“I’m still asking for even more prayers for another case. Glorious day, glorious day, the beginning of my vindication,” she said.

Reading a statement from De Lima, her lawyer, Filibon Tacardon, said “I have no doubt from the very beginning I will be acquitted”. He said De Lima cried as she heard of the acquittal.

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A former justice minister who won several human rights awards, De Lima said the charges were engineered to silence her.

This is the second drug case where she emerged victorious.  In 2021, a court dismissed one of three drugs cases filed against De Lima that stemmed from Duterte’s allegations, which led to multiple online hate campaigns against her.

Responding to the judgement, Amnesty International said that the decision was “long overdue”.

“We urge the authorities to also quash the remaining drug case and to ensure that her application for temporary freedom in this pending case is processed speedily and fairly,” interim Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer said in a statement.

“The authorities must not delay her release any longer and allow her to be reunited with her family, friends and supporters after six long years.”

Charges against her started dropping after key witnesses began retracting testimony they had made against de Lima, as Duterte’s term in office came to an end.

Last April, self-confessed druglord Kerwin Espinosa issued an affidavit and apology saying that his statements against de Lima were the result of “pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to his life and his family”.

(With inputs from agencies)

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