Senator Leila de Lima, President Duterte’s most outspoken critic, has been arrested today (Thursday, February 23) on drug charges dating back to her time as justice secretary.
Also included in the warrant were Rafael Ragos, a former chief of the Bureau of Corrections, and Ronnie Dayan, her former driver and boyfriend, who was alleged to be a middleman in her dealings with New Bilibid Prison drug lords.
The arrest warrant was issued less than a week after the Department of Justice filed charges against De Lima for allegedly receiving drug money from convicts in exchange for her protection.
It is believed she will be taken into custody at the Camp Crame national police headquarters.
Mrs De Lima — who this week called the president a “murderer and sociopathic serial killer” (see link below) — has described the charges as “plain and simple political persecution”.
She has also said that she had prepared herself to be the “first political prisoner under this regime”.
At an emotional press conference today, Mrs De Lima said: “Like what I said before, I have no plans to escape, I have no plans to hide because I will face the charges against me.
“To all of you, I ask for your prayers that I be safe and secure wherever they will detain me.
“The fight of Leila de Lima continues.”
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella welcomed news of the arrest: “It is a fulfilment of the campaign promise of President Duterte to rid Philippine society of drugs, crime, and corruption,” he said at a press conference today.
“The arrest of an incumbent senator demonstrates the president’s strong resolve to fight pushers, pedlars, and their protectors.
“Senator De Lima will now have her day in court where she will have full opportunity to prove her claim of innocence.”
However, her lawyer, Alex Padilla, questioned the validity of the arrest, saying he had filed a motion to quash the action, which had yet to be heard.
“It seems funny and sad at the same time. The issuance of the arrest warrant could really happen before the hearing of the motions, but it’s suspicious because this is a high-profile case. It’s clear that there’s a motion to quash, it should have been read first. I can’t think of anything else other than this is a pre-judgment on the part of the judge.
De Lima face life imprisonment and a fine of up to 10 million pesos.
The charges were filed five months after a house inquiry initiated by Duterte loyalists, during which convicts testified on De Lima’s alleged transactions with them.
The senator has long maintained that Duterte has a “personal vendetta” against her, dating back to when she was chief of the Commission on Human Rights and Duterte was mayor of Davao City. It was at this time she led investigations into his ties with the Davao Death Squad — accusations that are again in the spotlight.
Amnesty International has condemned the arrest as “a blatant attempt by the Philippine government to silence criticism of President Duterte” and divert attention from human rights violations in the government’s war against drugs.
A statement from Amnesty said: “As a result of her advocacy, De Lima has faced intimidation, ridicule and threats from the president and pro-Duterte officials in the Philippines, often on a daily or weekly basis.
“The consistent harassment of Senator de Lima by the authorities is a blatant attempt to silence one of most important critics of the violent war on drugs and bar her from participating in public life.”
Amnesty has called for charges against De Lima to be dropped and for special protection for the senator in the meantime. “The organisation also calls for special protection for the senator once in detention, who, given recent high profile killings in police custody, Amnesty International believes is at risk of physical harm.”