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De Lima acquitted in last drug charge

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SENATOR Leila de Lima attends the hearing at Regional Trial Court Branch 204 in Muntinlupa City on Nov. 4, 2022. — PHILIPPINE STAR/RUSSELL PALMA

By Chloe Mari A. Hufana

A MUNTINLUPA court on Monday acquitted former Senator Leila M. de Lima in her third and last drug trafficking case that she said was fabricated to muzzle her investigation of then-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs

“The court meticulously analyzed the testimonies of all the witnesses for the prosecution and concludes that they were not able to clearly establish that there exists a conspiracy among them to commit illegal drug trading, and that they in fact committed illegal drug trading,” Presiding Judge Gener M. Gito said in a 107-paged decision.

“The court is of the firm resolve and so holds that the prosecution was not able to prove the guilt of all the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” according to the ruling, a copy of which was provided by her legal team.

“I am feeling immense relief and happiness right now,” Ms. De Lima, who is out on bail, told reporters in mixed English and Filipino after the court ruling. “I can be more at ease and sleep more peacefully.”

“With the grant of our demurrer to evidence, which is tantamount to acquittal, that means I am now completely free and vindicated. It’s very liberating,” she added.

The same court granted her bail plea in November, after almost seven years in detention. The prosecution had failed to prove her complicity in the drug case, it said when it granted her bail.

Ms. De Lima’s camp in March asked the court to dismiss the case.

She was accused of promoting the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa during her time as Justice secretary.

Convicts allegedly bribed her with P70 million, which she allegedly used during her campaign as a senator.

Ms. De Lima was also cleared in her two “disobedience” cases before a Quezon City trial court on.

The court reversed a Quezon City Metropolitan trial court’s decision rejecting her motion to dismiss the cases, which stemmed from her failure to answer summonses issued by the House of Representatives.

Congressmen who were allies of Mr. Duterte investigated her alleged drug links in 2016.

Ms. De Lima faced various charges in 2017 within months of launching a Senate inquiry into Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, in which thousands of drug users and dealers were killed in police drug raids.

She incurred Mr. Duterte’s ire when, as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, she started a probe in 2009 into extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad in the tough-talking leader’s hometown, where he was the long-time mayor. Mr. Duterte later vowed to “destroy” her.

Mr. Duterte’s drug war is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible “crimes against humanity.”   

Mr. Duterte, whose term ended in 2022, accused her of colluding with drug syndicates while she was Justice secretary, which led to charges of conspiracy to trade narcotics.

Two of the three cases against Ms. De Lima were also dismissed.

Ms. De Lima has insisted the charges against her were baseless and politically motivated.

“She has faced public ridicule and injustice, yet she remained steadfast in her commitment to truth and justice,” Senator Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement in mixed English Filipino.

“Even before, I knew that Senator Leila was innocent, and my heart overflows with joy now that she has finally achieved justice.”

Ms. Hontiveros-Baraquel urged authorities to hold accountable those who filed unfounded charges against Ms. De Lima, adding that these false charges compromised her reputation and the integrity of the Philippine justice system.

“Justice must be served, and those who have wronged her and our legal system must face the consequences of their actions,” she added.

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