Arrest warrant for top Philippine drug war critic

Arrest warrant for top Philippine drug war critic
Philippine Sen. Leila de Lima is escorted by the Senate's security personnel after a Regional Trial Court (RTC) ordered her arrest at the Senate headquarters in Pasay city, metro Manila on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2017

Arrest warrant for top Philippine drug war critic

Arrest warrant for top Philippine drug war critic

MANILA: An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for the highest-profile opponent of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, outraging her supporters who said the move was aimed at silencing her.
Sen. Leila de Lima, 57, a lawyer who has spent nearly a decade trying to link Duterte to death squads that have allegedly killed thousands of people, faces drug trafficking charges that could see her jailed for life.
“I have no plans of fleeing and I have no plans to go in hiding. I will face all these charges,” a tearful De Lima told reporters at the Senate after a Manila court issued the arrest warrant.
De Lima said that although the warrant had been issued, it had yet to be served on her. So she planned to spend the night with her loved ones before returning to the Senate on Friday when she would likely be arrested.
She is accused of orchestrating a drug trafficking ring when she was justice secretary in the previous administration of Benigno Aquino.
But De Lima and her supporters insist she is innocent, and that the charges are trumped up to silence one of Duterte’s most vocal and enduring critics.
De Lima this week branded Duterte a “sociopathic serial killer” as she called for ordinary Filipinos to stand up in opposition to his drug war, which has seen more than 6,500 people killed since he took office eight months ago.
She said Duterte was mentally unfit to be president and called for the cabinet to unseat him, while referring to the “People Power” revolution that overthrew dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
“Now the time has come again for us to be brave and stand up to another criminal dictator and his evil regime,” De Lima said on Tuesday.
De Lima’s Liberal Party, which ruled for six years under Aquino, voiced deep anger on Thursday at her imminent arrest.
“The Liberal Party reiterates that it condemns the political persecution of brave administration critic Sen. Leila De Lima,” it said in a statement.
“This arrest is purely political vendetta and has no place in (a) justice system that upholds the rule of law. This is condemnable. We reiterate that an arrest based on trumped-up charges is illegal.”
The Liberal Party also said it feared for De Lima’s life once she was arrested, citing the killing by police of another politician, Rolando Espinosa, inside a jail cell in August last year after he was arrested on drug charges.
The National Bureau of Investigation said the police who broke into the jail murdered him and that he was defenseless.
But Duterte said he chose to believe the police version that they were serving an arrest warrant on Espinosa inside the jail before dawn and the officers shot at him in self defense.
Duterte also railed at people for caring about the death of Espinosa.
“You have here a government employee using his office and money of government, cooking (illegal drugs) and destroying the lives of so many millions of Filipinos. So what is there for me to say about it (the death), ” he said.
In her brief comments on Tuesday, De Lima said she wanted to keep speaking out against Duterte but also signalled fear that her life was at risk.
“To all of you we ask for your prayers so I will be safe and secure wherever they want to jail me,” she said.
In another development, Philippine foreign minister on Thursday said he would tell a United Nations rights body that the killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs were not state-sponsored.
More than 7,700 people have been killed since Duterte unleashed the drugs war in June, about 2,500 in what police say are shootouts during raids and sting operations.
Most of the rest are under investigation and activists believe many were extrajudicial killings. Police blame the killings on vigilante groups over which they have no control.
Perfecto Yasay said he would address the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, comprised of 47 nations, during a session set to run from Monday until March 24.
“Our justice system does not tolerate violations of human rights, does not tolerate any state-sponsored extrajudicial killings,” Yasay told reporters. “That’s the truth.”
Last month, Duterte dismantled police anti-drug units after a South Korean businessman was killed inside the national police headquarters, but vowed to forge ahead with his war on drugs until the last day of his term.
“Divisive fear-mongering” has become a dangerous force in the world, the secretary general of rights group Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, said in a statement this week.
He described leaders like Duterte, US President Donald Trump, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.”