Posted: Feb. 23, 2017 7:00 am Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 10:31 am
MANILA, Philippines (AP) A Philippine court issued an arrest warrant on drug charges Thursday for an opposition senator and former top human rights official who is one of the most vocal critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly anti-drug crackdown.
The Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa city in the Manila metropolis issued the warrant for the arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima and other officials who have been charged by Department of Justice prosecutors with receiving bribes from detained drug lords.
De Lima has vehemently denied the charges, which she said were part of an attempt by Duterte to muzzle critics of his crackdown, which has left more than 7,000 drug suspects dead. She questioned why the court suddenly issued the arrest order when it was scheduled Friday to hear her petition to void the three non-bailable charges.
Followed by dozens of journalists, photographers and TV cameramen, she emerged from a meeting with her allies at the Senate and gave assurances in a news conference that she would face the charges and would not escape.
Fighting back tears, de Lima, 57, said she would return home to be with her family and get the belongings she will take to jail.
“I’m asking for your prayers that I’ll be safe and secure wherever they will take me, wherever they will detain me,” she said.
De Lima left with her bodyguards for home but later returned to her office in the Senate, where she said police could not arrest her. She said she did not feel safe being arrested at night and would go with the arresting officers Friday morning.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella called de Lima’s impending arrest “a major step forward in the administration’s anti-drug war.”
When de Lima headed the government’s Commission on Human Rights, she tried unsuccessfully to have Duterte prosecuted when he was mayor of Davao city for allegedly unlawful deaths that occurred during his anti-drug crackdown in the city. No witnesses came forward then to testify against the mayor, human rights officials said.
Duterte expanded the crackdown nationwide after becoming president last June, and de Lima has continued to criticize him after winning a Senate seat last year.
In one of her strongest statements against the president this week, de Lima called Duterte a “sociopathic serial killer” who has not been made to answer for more than 1,000 deaths during his crackdown in Davao city as its mayor and now for the thousands of drug suspects killed in his national fight against illegal drugs.
She urged Duterte’s Cabinet members to declare him unfit to serve as president. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II warned that such remarks were seditious but de Lima replied that Aguirre and Duterte are “the rebels and inciters against a constitutional order that values life and due process above everything else.”
Prosecutors allege that de Lima, while she was justice secretary under former President Benigno Aquino III, received bribes from detained drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign, and they say some of the drug lords would testify against her. The bribes were allegedly solicited by her former driver and lover, who was also charged and arrested Thursday in northern Pangasinan province.
Duterte has lashed out at de Lima with foul language, calling her a sex-crazed immoral woman whose election opened “the portals of the national government … to narco politics.”
De Lima said the case against her might be the “wakeup call” the country needs, referring to the absence of a public outcry in the country over the killings in the anti-drug campaign.
De Lima said people were starting to fight back, citing recent accounts by a former militiaman and a retired police officer who acknowledged their roles as assassins in the Davao deaths and Duterte’s alleged involvement in the killings.