Cabaero: Ruling highlights flawed drug charges v. De Lima

Cabaero: Ruling highlights flawed drug charges v. De Lima
SunStar Cabaero

The court’s decision to clear human rights lawyer and former senator Leila de Lima of the last of her three cases casts a critical light on the government’s investigation and prosecution performance.

“The prosecution was not able to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” Judge Gener Gito of the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) said in his verdict. The court granted de Lima’s demurrer to evidence, which is considered an acquittal. This was the last of the three cases against her filed by the previous administration.

De Lima, a staunch critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, was arrested in 2017 while serving as a senator, and she spent more than six years in jail for three drug trafficking charges. The cases were based on allegations that de Lima instructed her former aide Ronnie Dayan to ignore a 2016 congressional subpoena during drug-related hearings. Two of these cases were dismissed last year after several witnesses, including prison gang leaders, died or recanted their testimonies.

The final case, presided over by Judge Gito, was on the alleged conspiracy between de Lima, the then Bureau of Corrections head, and other co-defendants to engage in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Former Justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who filed the drug charges against de Lima, said he had anticipated the cases would be dismissed. “That has been expected for a long time. As I said before, I am happy for this development, as she suffered enough already,” he told reporters.

He should have had de Lima cleared earlier but didn’t, simply because his former boss was targeting her for pursuing him when de Lima was Justice secretary and Duterte was Davao city mayor. Aguirre did not take any action to grant de Lima prompt justice. Those who investigated the allegations against her also failed to perform their duties properly, as highlighted by the court’s findings.

The pursuit of de Lima was evidently not driven by a genuine quest for justice but rather was influenced by political motives and perhaps a personal vendetta. The dismissal of all charges underscores the need for unbiased, evidence-based investigations and prosecutorial independence to ensure a fair and just legal system that protects individual rights.

Her acquittal has now emboldened de Lima to collaborate with the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court, which is investigating Duterte and other officials for possible crimes against humanity committed between November 2011 and March 2019 during Duterte’s “drug war” and alleged death squad activities when he was Davao City mayor. De Lima said, “To former President Duterte, you will now be held accountable for your sins against the people.”

The Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2018 when Duterte was president, but the court said it could still prosecute crimes that occurred before the withdrawal took effect in 2019.

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