House human rights chair joins calls for De Lima’s release

PHILIPPINE STAR/ RUSSELL-PALMA

THE CHAIR of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights has joined calls for the release of former senator Leila de Lima, citing that there are no more witnesses in the drug trafficking charges against her, a congressman said on Tuesday. 

“I think that the (courts) should realize that there are no more witnesses against former senator Leila de Lima, why is she still in custody?” Manila Rep. Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. said in a mix of Filipino and English in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel. 

“I would believe that the former senator Leila de Lima should be released from custody,” he said. 

Ms. De Lima, a known critic of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte, was arrested in 2017 for alleged involvement in drug trafficking at the national penitentiary when she was Justice secretary.

Last week, she was taken hostage by one of three inmates who tried to escape the custodial center at the police headquarters.

Even prior to the incident, several lawmakers as well as human rights advocates have been calling for her release.

ACT-Teachers Party-list Rep. France L. Castro has urged her peers to support the passage of House Resolution 198, which seeks to withdraw the charges against the former senator. 

Mr. Abante said he is also counting on the statement of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in his first State of the Nation Address that respect for human rights will thrive in the current administration. 

In the same interview, Mr. Abante also recommended that the police should coordinate with media organizations in their efforts to protect journalists.

“(The police visits) are not normal, this would be a human rights violation because they caused trauma and intimidation towards our media practitioners,” the congressman said, referring to an incident at the weekend where a non-uniformed police officer visited the home of a broadcast journalist. 

The police have since apologized for the incident and acknowledged a lapse in judgement over the directive.

Ms. Castro, along with Reps. Arlene D. Brosas of Gabriela and Raoul Danniel A Manuel of Kabataan, have filed a resolution seeking a House probe on the incident and other similar cases.

Mr. Abante said the committee would act on the resolution and investigate the matter. — Kyanna Angela Bulan and Matthew Carl L. Montecillo