July 23, 2024

The “near-death experience” of former senator Leila de Lima when she was taken hostage by a member of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center inside Camp Crame in Quezon City, has renewed calls from human rights groups and her political allies, that she be released from detention.

These groups contend the recent incident involving her in another hardship that she has to bear by virtue of her being a political detainee.

Just to put the record straight, de Lima is not a political detainee. She is being detained due to her being accused of a common crime and not a political crime. The cases for which she is being tried involve violation of the anti-drugs law to which no bail is recommended.

It just so happened that at the time she was arrested and detained, she was a staunch critic of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte. He hates her and she hates him. And it is on this premise that she is being branded as a political detainee.

On another aspect, de Lima is not an easy person to like. She is audacious as she is insistent. She holds nothing back especially on the topic involving the war on drugs authored by Duterte.

She was branded as immoral for supposedly maintaining an amorous relationship with her married driver, stirring a scandal of sorts when a private video allegedly circulated in public. Her private life became sensational because of this.

Yet, whether you like de Lima not, she is as much entitled to justice as all other accused. Her situation must be judged not on her personality nor her political inclinations but on the merits of her case.

Whether or not you are a supporter or a hater of de Lima, she deserves to be treated with the same fairness and candor as that accorded all others accused of a crime. The presumption of innocence must be appreciated in her favor. Her constitutional rights must be guarded and protected. That being said, there are valid legal grounds to argue that at this point, de Lima must be released from detention.

There are several cases filed against de Lima. Several of those have already been dismissed because the witnesses who were supposed to testify against her have retracted their testimonies. They were categorical in saying that they were merely pressured to implicate her and were forced to sign statements that they did not truly understand or comprehend.

They regret having committed this injustice to her. Being bothered by their conscience, they are taking back their contention that she is a leading figure in the drug trade. They declared her innocence.
Since all cases filed against de Lima are related, these matters involving her innocence ought to be carried out in evaluating if the evidence against her is strong or weak.

Evidently, it is weak. This weakness in evidence is enough reason to, at least, free her on bail. The law is quite specific that even if an accused is being charged on a non-bailable offense, he or she may be allowed to go on bail if the evidence of the prosecution is weak.

De Lima deserves this benefit.

Besides, the circumstances of de Lima are not unique.

Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile was allowed to be set free by the Supreme Court on humanitarian reasons, notwithstanding that the crime for which he is being charged is likewise non-bailable. He was allowed to be released from detention because of health reasons and his age. If this worked for him, de Lima deserves no less.

The point is, if justice is to prevail, the case of de Lima should be the guiding light. She may not be a political prisoner in the sense that it is understood, but she is a citizen of the Republic of the Philippines.