November 16, 2023 — Canada has welcomed the release of former Philippine senator Leila de Lima from jail.
De Lima, who was a vocal critic of ex-President Rodrigo Duterte, has spent more than six years in detention due to drug-related criminal cases.
A former justice secretary during the time of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, De Lima has denied the charges against her and insists that these were fabricated.
As chairperson of the Commission of Human Rights, De Lima investigated extra-judicial killings in Davao City at a time when Duterte was then city mayor.
“After six years, eight months, and 24 days, sweet, sweet freedom. Thank you, Lord,” De Lima said in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In a statement on November 13, 2023, the Canadian embassy in the Philippines hailed the release of De Lima on bail.
“Canada welcomes the decision to grant bail for former Senator Leila de Lima, ending six years of pre-trial incarceration,” the statement read.
“We will continue to follow her situation closely, with the expectation of rapid resolution of proceedings in the case against her.”
“Canada expects her case will be concluded in full conformity with the laws of the Philippines, and in line with the Philippines’ international human rights obligations,” the statement concluded.
Reports from Manila noted that the Canadian embassy was the first diplomatic mission in the Philippines to welcome the decision of a Muntinlupa court to grant bail to de Lima.
EU Ambassador Luc Veron also commended the granting of bail to De Lima.
“Very pleased by the news of @AttyLeiladeLima’s release,” Veron said in a tweet on X.
Veron said that the court’s decision was a “significant step for rule of law” and it was “a positive turn in the pursuit of justice!”
“I hope that resolution of the remaining charges will be accelerated,” Veron added.
U.S. Ambassador MaryKay Carlson said it was “welcome news to see” De Lima released from jail.
“We continue to follow her case closely and look forward to seeing the remaining charges against her resolved in accordance with Philippine law,” Carlson also said.
U.K. envoy Laure Beaufils said that the British government welcomes De Lima’s release, describing it as a “significant step” for the country’s rule of law.
A report by the Philippine Star related that a Muntinlupa court granted her petition to post bail for her third and last drug case.
Also, the court allowed De Lima and each of her co-accused to post bail in the amount of P300,000.
De Lima was detained at Camp Crame starting in 2017 barely six months after assuming her post as a member of the Philippine Senate.
“Finally, I will be set free. For years, my whole being has been crying out for freedom. For more than six long years, I’ve been praying so hard for this day to come,” the Philippine Star quoted Lima.
The report listed her co-accused as former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Bucayo, De Lima’s former security personnel Joenel Sanchez and Jad Dera, and former driver Ronnie Dayan.
“The court is of the firm view and so holds that accused De Lima, Bucayu, Dayan, Sanchez and Dera should be allowed to post bail,” the Philippine Star quoted from the Regional Trial Court Branch 206 decision. “The prosecution was not able to discharge its burden of establishing that the guilt of the said accused is strong.”
De Lima was accused of involvement in the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City during her time as justice secretary.
The Philippine Star recalled that De Lima was acquitted in her first drug case in February 2021. Two years later, in May 2023, she was acquitted in the second drug charge. On October 16, 2023, two state witnesses – Maj. Rodolfo Magleo and Sgt. Nonilo Arile – in her last drug case recanted their testimonies because “they are bothered by their conscience”.
In 2022, De Lima unsuccessfully ran for reelection as senator under the ticket of presidential candidate Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.
Leila de Lima is free and the former senator thanked the government of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for “respecting the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law”.
By Carlito Pablo