Experts seek DoJ review of De Lima’s drug cases


By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

GOVERNMENT prosecutors should review the drug trafficking charges against former Senator Leila M. de Lima after the Ombudsman dismissed a bribery complaint against her for lack of sufficient evidence, political and human rights experts said at the weekend.

“Trash the cases,” Fides M. Lim, a human rights lawyer and convenor of political prisoner group Kapatid, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Only the Department of Justice (DoJ) can put a stop to this prime example of how state prosecution is being used for political persecution as in the case of so many other political prisoners.”

The Ombudsman dismissed bribery charges against Ms. De Lima, who has been in jail since February 2017, and her former aide as it found no probable cause to indict them.

Ombudsman investigators had charged the ex-senator and her aide of conspiracy to extort money from self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.

At least four witnesses have taken back their allegations about her involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Mr. Espinosa earlier testified that Ms. De Lima through her aide had pocketed P8 million in bribe money that she allegedly used to fund her 2016 senatorial campaign.

“The dismissal of charges only proves that the DoJ should really look into the details of pieces of evidence used against former Senator Leila de Lima, and once and for all in response to the campaign promise of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to review and hold accountable those officials who have erred in the implementation of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war on drugs,” Marlon M. Villarin, a political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas, said in a Viber message.

“This will not just be helpful in making the war on drugs more transparent and accountable but will surely make a clear statement that the present administration is genuinely true to its promise of unity.”

Last week, the Justice department said the Ombudsman ruling was consistent with a 2017 DoJ resolution that did not consider Mr. Espinosa’s testimony in the absence of corroborating evidence.

The drug trafficking charges are different from the bribery complaint, it added.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier said it would be up to the courts to decide on Ms. de Lima’s drug trafficking charges.

“The case was probably more personal than other cases of persecution due to her history with Duterte, but at the same time the tactics are the same as other instances of political harassment,” Hansley A. Juliano, a former political science professor studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He added that the dismissal of the bribery complaint would not automatically lead to Ms. De Lima’s release since Mr. Marcos would not want another opposition voice.

Last week, De Lima lawyer Dino S. de Leon said the Ombudsman ruling reinforced signs of fabricated evidence in her drug trafficking cases.

In 2016, Ms. De Lima led a Senate probe into vigilante-style killings in Davao when Mr. Duterte was still mayor and vice mayor of the city.

She was arrested a year later after allegations of her involvement in the illegal drug trade. Ms. de Lima lost her reelection bid this year.

Human Rights Watch has said the former senator had suffered five years in detention for a crime that key witnesses now dispute.

Political and human rights experts have said Ms. De Lima’s detention showed how the Philippine justice system could be easily abused.

 “Those trumped-up cases are falling like dominoes because they have no real leg to stand on,” said Ms. Lim. “I hope and pray that the prison doors will soon swing open for Ma’am Leila, as it is slowly doing for other political prisoners.”