How senatoriables viewed the political persecution of Sen. Leila de Lima

With only two  days before the nation would once again put new legislators in the Senate, let us look into the position of 23 senatoriables on the persecution of De Lima, and how they viewed Duterte’s political vendetta.

With research from Emily Vital and Janess Ann Ellao
Graphics by Ipe Soco

MANILA – Five years after Sen. Leila De Lima was arrested for allegedly violating the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos recanted their testimonies against her.

Groups and known supporters of De Lima are now calling for her immediate and unconditional release, saying that these recantations only proved that allegations against her are politically motivated.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said Ragos and Espinosa’s recantations validate what they knew all along, “That the legal and judicial process is being deliberately weaponized by the State and its agents for nefarious political reasons by unscrupulously constructing false narratives and peddling manufactured evidence.”

“It is extremely lamentable and distressing that one can just be casually thrown in jail for years by using the whole State apparatus to silence critics and fiscalizers like (Sen. Leila) De Lima. Those who masterminded, goaded and enabled this brazen injustice must be held accountable in some way in time lest these outrages be repeated,” they added.

With only two days before the nation would once again put new legislators in the Senate, let us look into the position of 23 senatoriables on the persecution of De Lima, and how they viewed Duterte’s political vendetta.

Support for De Lima

When De Lima assumed office in 2016, she immediately conducted an investigation on the spate of drug-related killings, which earned the ire of Duterte. Duterte himself alleged that De Lima is collecting money from drug sources delivered to her by her former security and driver Ronnie Dayan.

In September 2016, her colleagues in the Senate ousted her as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The House of Representatives’ justice committee investigated illegal drug trade in the National Bilibid Prison and De Lima’s alleged involvement when she was still the secretary of the Department of Justice.

It took only months when the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court issued a warrant of arrest and detained her in February 2017.
Some legislators stood with De Lima.

In 2017, Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno served as one of De Lima’s lawyers when she filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to nullify the drug cases filed against her.

In a news report, Diokno said that the charges against the senator are baseless. “One day, the truth will come out and justice will prevail. Until then, we are with Senator De Lima in this fight,” Diokno was quoted as saying in a report.

Former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat criticized attacks against Leila De Lima. In 2016, Baguilat said that attacks of Duterte against De Lima have a chilling effect on the critics of the administration.

“That all those who oppose the President will be shamed or threatened publicly, even if the opinion expressly comes from an equal branch of government,” Baguilat said in a report.

He also criticized the investigation at the HOR on the alleged drug trade in the national penitentiary and questioned why De Lima was being singled out by her colleagues.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, said that De Lima was denied due process as her arrest and the issuance of the warrant were all based on the testimonies of convicted drug lords who stood as supposed state witnesses during the House inquiry.

She added that De Lima’s arrest “has set a dangerous precedent.” She added that De Lima’s arrest sends a chilling message that all political dissenters under Duterte will not be tolerated.

Then Sen. Francis Escudero said in 2017, “I pray that truth and justice will prevail in her case–whomsoever its face may look favorably upon–and likewise pray for her children as she faces perhaps the toughest battle in her life.” He was reportedly not present during the vote to oust De Lima as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice.

Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares consistently criticized Duterte’s attacks on critics. On the fifth year of De Lima’s detention, he called for her release and the dropping of charges against her.

“Her case is political persecution at its worst, with the whole state machinery used to vilify and degrade her stature as a senator and human being,” said Colmenares.

Labor leader Elmer Labog’s group Kilusang Mayo Uno is calling for the immediate release of De Lima after two supposed witnesses against her recanted their testimonies. In a statement, KMU said De Lima is a victim of injustice in the Philippines that her arrest and detention is just a revenge of Duterte to those who are standing against him. They said that all charges against her should be junked.

Luke Espiritu and Alex Lacson also called for the release of De Lima.

Espiritu shared the same sentiment that allegations against De Lima were proven wrong after Espinosa and Ragos recanted their statements against her. Lacson on the other hand said that “candidates of dynasties with a history of political vendetta should no longer be voted into office.”

Former senator, Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes also criticized the attacks against De Lima. He called the House investigation against De Lima’s alleged involvement in the drug-trade at NBP, as coercion by the Duterte allies. He also criticized the legislators who slut-shamed De Lima during the inquiry.

Trillanes, however, abstained when senators voted to oust De Lima as chairperson of Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Meanwhile, Duterte ally, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano has always been critical of De Lima’s investigation of drug-related killings in the senate.

He questioned De Lima’s handling of the investigation saying that she, as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is impartial and biased. He also said that De Lima is damaging the reputation of the country with her investigation where Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman of Duterte, came to the hearing.

During his stint as Foreign Affairs Secretary in 2018, Cayetano tagged De Lima as a DDS or destabilizer, drug syndicate spokesperson.

He described the law approved in the US, banning government officials involved in the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, as the best example of “weaponizing human rights.”

In 2016, Jinggoy Estrada, one of the politicians who threw accusations against De Lima, alleged that De Lima’s supposed partner received money from the senator. Estrada was in jail for plunder when he made the comment.

During that time, Duterte mentioned in his press conference about the supposed relationship of De Lima with one of her security escorts.

Prior to this, Estrada also accused De Lima of receiving money from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she was still a commissioner at the Commission on Human Rights.

Then Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque are among the Congressmen who pried into the supposed love affair of De Lima and Dayan during the House inquiry in November 2016.

This has prompted Kabayan Partylist to investigate their partymate Roque over what they call as a “conduct inimical to the image and interests of the party” which led to his ouster from the partylist.

In 2017, Roque filed a complaint against De Lima at the Senate Ethics Committee for her alleged involvement in the drug trade in the NBP.

In 2016, after taking the seat as chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon accused De Lima of protecting herself by holding Senate inquiry on drug-related killings, from the imminent investigation at the House of Representatives on drug trade inside the NBP when she was the justice secretary. He accused De Lima of concealing information about her witness, Matobato, has a pending case of kidnapping at the National Bureau of Investigation. According to a report, a transcript showed that Matobato did mention the kidnapping charges against him during the first hearing where he testified in September 2016.

Among her colleagues, Senators Joel Villanueva, Loren Legarda, Sherwin Gatchalian and Miguel Zubiri all voted in favor of ousting De Lima as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Villanueva said he voted to oust the senator because of her “rookie mistakes in handling the hearings” pertaining to Senate probe on extrajudicial killings.

Gatchalian said in a statement that the committee on justice, under the leadership of De Lima, “had become a hollow vehicle for the fulfillment of personal political vendettas.”

Meanwhile, Legarda as Antique representative was among the women senators who condemned the House of Representatives’ plan to show the alleged private video of De Lima at a congressional hearing in 2016.

Meanwhile, no recent statements were made by senatorial aspirants Jejomar Binay, Robin Padilla, Gilbert Teodoro, Raffy Tulfo and Mark Villar on the persecution of De Lima. (RTS, RVO) (

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