The European parliament has condemned the Philippines for arresting Senator Leila de Lima, President Duterte’s staunchest critic, for allegedly being involved in the Bilibid Prison drugs trade.
A resolution passed by European Union lawmakers said they had serious concerns that the charges against Senator De Lima — who is imprisoned at police headquarters in Camp Crame — “are almost entirely fabricated”.
De Lima has for long been the most outspoken politician against Mr Duterte and has vowed to keep fighting what she describes as the “sociopathic serial killer”.
She has been a fierce critic of the war on drugs, which has seen more than 7,000 people killed in nine months, but also spent a decade investigating Duterte’s alleged role as the leader of the so-called Davao Death Squad back when he was mayor of the city.
Duterte has hit back at De Lima, alleging that she ran a drug trafficking ring inside the nation’s biggest prison when she was the justice secretary under the previous administration of Benigno Aquino. She denies all charges.
The EU text described De Lima as a human rights advocate who could face a life sentence and be expelled from the senate if convicted.
It also raised concerns for her safety in prison. “There are numerous claims of torture in places of detention that are not giving rise to inquiries Senator De Lima was exposed to a torrent of harassment and intimidation from the authorities,” it said.
Responding to the resolution, Philippine presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella denied that the charges against the senator were politically motivated.
“You know, they seem to have a misunderstanding of what’s happening to De Lima. The lady is being charged with crime, not political persuasions, so I think they ought to respect that,” he said.
The EU text also mentioned the president’s threats to kill human rights defenders and said the government should focus on combatting trafficking networks and drug barons rather than “tracking down small-scale consumers”.
Many of the extrajudicial killings by police have targeted alleged drug users and low-level dealers, human rights groups and journalists have found. Police strongly deny these claims.
The EU also expressed “grave concern over credible reports to the effect that the Philippine police force is falsifying evidence to justify extrajudicial killings, and that overwhelmingly the urban poor are those being targeted”.
The resolution said the EU should help establish an independent international investigation into unlawful killings and other violations by the Philippines in the war on drugs.