Leila de Lima was granted bail on Monday by a Philippine court, freeing the former senator who had been jailed for more than six years.
According to the Associated Press, de Lima “was detained as an opposition senator in February 2017 in what they called political persecution by Duterte and his allies and a major blow to Philippine democracy.”
“It’s really an indescribable feeling. I’m starting from zero the life that they tried to destroy,” de Lima, 64, told the Associated Press after her bail was approved. “This is freedom. It’s so precious.”
The AP reported that de Lima “immediately called her ailing 91-year-old mother and, with her voice breaking, told her she was coming home.”
Her arrest and detainment had long drawn international condemnation, with human rights groups and various governing bodies decrying it as an act of political persecution by Duterte, whose tenure as president ended in June after he was elected in 2016 on a fiercely anti-drug platform.
Police records suggest that Duterte’s crackdown on illicit drugs in the country at least 6,000 individuals dead, although other estimates place the number much higher than that. The International Criminal Court has opened a probe into the killings.
A former senator in the Philippines, de Lima “has said the charges were an act of revenge by Duterte, who she described at the time of her arrest as ‘a murderer and a sociopathic serial killer,’” according to the Guardian.
“She had long criticised his governance. In her former role as chair of the national Commission on Human Rights, De Lima had sought to expose killings by so-called ‘death squads’ in Davao City, where Duterte was mayor for more than two decades,” the Guardian reported.
“De Lima was considered the most prominent political prisoner under his administration. In prison she continued her work as a senator, issuing handwritten statements from detention, often condemning Duterte’s governance. She was unable to campaign in the 2022 election, however, and lost an attempt to run again for a senate position.”
For years, United Nations human rights experts decried de Lima’s ongoing imprisonment.
In 2021, on the fourth year anniversary of her detention, those experts once again called for her release.
“As today marks four years of Senator De Lima being arbitrarily deprived of her liberty, we urge the Government of the Philippines to give effect to the Opinion, including by releasing Senator De Lima and reinstating her in the positions from which she was ousted,” the experts said in a statement.
They reiterated those calls in June of this year, calling on the country’s current president, Bongbong Marcos, to release her.
“We have long called for the immediate release of Leila de Lima,” the experts said. “The decision to deny bail comes after more than six years of arbitrary detention. It is high time for the administration of President Marcos Jr. to close this case once and for all, provide compensation and other reparations, and investigate the circumstances that allowed this to happen in the first place.”
“We are deeply concerned that after six years of arbitrary detention, Leila de Lima will now continue to be detained after her bail application was denied on 7 June 2023,” they added.
On Monday, presiding Judge Hon. Gener M. Gito decided to grant de Lima bail at a court in Muntinlupa City.
According to CNN, “bail conditions were set at roughly $5,300 (300,000 Philippine pesos), and her legal team is expected to file the paperwork later on Monday evening.”
“I have to rebuild my life. My life that they have tried to destroy,” de Lima told CNN at the courthouse.
“De Lima had been acquitted of two out of the three charges laid against her, which all stemmed from allegations made by Duterte that she received payoffs from convicted drug gangs to fund her 2016 senatorial bid…Court proceedings against de Lima have been marked by undue delays, including the failure of prosecution witnesses to appear in court and changes in judges handling her cases.”
Amnesty International on Monday urged the courts to make her freedom permanent.
“The court’s granting of Leila de Lima’s bail application is indeed a welcome development. Allowing her temporary liberty should be a step toward justice for Leila, beginning with the dismissal of this last charge against her,” said Butch Olano, section director of Amnesty International Philippines, as quoted by CNN.
“Leila has been targeted by the government for her criticism of the murderous ‘war on drugs’ and other human rights violations. She should have never spent even a single day in detention. This last remaining drug case against her must be dismissed expeditiously, and those behind her arbitrary detention and other violations of her human rights must be brought to justice,” Olano said.