3 US senators press De Lima’s release from detention
Three US senators who were banned from entering the Philippines for introducing sanctions on Filipino officials responsible for the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima said on Thursday that they welcomed her acquittal on one of three drug trafficking cases but pressed the Duterte administration to release her.
“While we are pleased that one of the three illegitimate charges against Sen. Leila de Lima has been dropped, it is clearly not enough,” US Senators Edward Markey, Richard Durbin and Patrick Leahy said in a joint statement.
“We will continue to hold the Duterte government responsible for its abuses until Sen. De Lima is released, all of the fabricated charges against her and other prisoners of conscience are dismissed, and the victims of President Duterte’s campaign of abuse against the Filipino people have obtained justice,” they said.
Markey, the top Democrat on the US Senate’s East Asia and Pacific subcommittee, posted the statement on his Twitter account, which was then retweeted by De Lima.
The three were among the five US senators behind a provision in the US 2020 budget that banned entry to the United States of Filipino officials behind De Lima’s “wrongful imprisonment” on drug trading charges when she was justice secretary during the Aquino administration.
Incarcerated since early 2017 at Camp Crame in Quezon City, De Lima was charged with illegal drug offenses in what human rights organizations saw as political vendetta after she led an investigation into the Duterte administration’s drug war.
Mr. Duterte then ordered Durbin and Leahy banned from the Philippines in December 2019. Markey was added to the list in January 2020.
A convicted murderer has testified that he personally saw De Lima receiving P1.4 million in protection money from a fellow convict who supposedly headed the illegal drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison, according to state prosecutors.
Joel Capones took the witness stand at the continuation of De Lima’s trial presided over by Judge Romeo Buenaventura of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 256 on Tuesday, a day before Judge Liezel Aquiatan of Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 acquitted her on a separate drug case.
But De Lima failed to secure a similar favorable ruling from Aquiatan in the third case brought against her by the Department of Justice.
Capones, one of the Bilibid inmates who testified against the senator after Mr. Duterte accused her of receiving money from drug syndicates, claimed he saw De Lima, then justice secretary, meet with convict Jaybee Sebastian in March 2014.
He said Sebastian had instructed him and other prison gang leaders to sell “shabu” (crystal meth) supposedly to raise funds for De Lima’s 2016 senatorial bid.
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