FRIDAY’S arrest of Sen. Leila de Lima is based on flimsy charges and a product of political harassment, Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo declared Friday, as Catholic bishops called on the Duterte government
to give the embattled lawmaker a fair shake.
Robredo, titular head of the Liberal Party that fielded de Lima in the May 2016 senatorial race, issued the statement moments after the former Justice secretary surrendered to authorities as a result of the warrant of arrest issued against her by the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court over drug trafficking chargers.
“The arrest of Senator Leila de Lima is the latest move in a persistent campaign of political harassment being waged against a duly elected member of Congress. These efforts to smear Senator de Lima are a strong indication that the charges against her arise from a political agenda and are not the result of an independent, unbiased legal process,” Robredo said in a statement.
Robredo recalled that efforts to harass de Lima began when the senator, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice, launched an investigation into extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.
“With contradicting testimonies from criminals as basis of the case, they circumvented due process to fast-track the issuance of the arrest warrant. Our history as a nation is marred by instances where government officials use the processes of criminal justice to cow, silence, and eliminate critics. We cannot, and we must not, stand by and let this happen again,” Robredo said.
“We exhort the people to follow and scrutinize this case religiously,” Robredo added.
Malacañang denied claims de Lima was being subjected to political persecution.
In a chance interview, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea insisted de Lima’s arrest was not politically motivated as a criminal case had been filed against her.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo likewise said de Lima is not a political prisoner because there was basis for her arrest.
“She is not a political prisoner. She will become a detainee pursuant to a warrant of arrest arising from a criminal charge against her,” Panelo said.
De Lima’s situation, he pointed out, was not a culmination of a political vendetta, unlike what happened to former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was detained by the Aquino government in 2011.
“What they did to Arroyo, that was political vendetta because no case was filed against her. That is the real political vendetta,” he said.
CBCP appeals for due process
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Friday appealed to the Duterte government to give de Lima due process.
“Let all who have been charged be accorded their fair day in the court of laws,” said CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas in a pastoral letter.
“As we deplore what is wrong, let us always allow the reign of charity to prevail in imitation of Christ in whose heart was a special love for those whom all else rejected. Mercy without justice is weakness. Justice without love is tyranny,” Villegas added.
“It is unchristian to find secret pleasure in the sufferings of others. May we recognize in ourselves the awful power of sin and our need for God’s help! We need the Lord even more now!” Villegas said. “I pray for the healing of our land and for the reign of harmony.”
De Lima was among the thousands who showed up at a prayer rally called by the Church at Rizal Park last February 18 to protests summary killings and the death penalty bill.
Some of de Lima’s Senate colleagues branded as baseless and illegal the lawmaker’s arrest, saying it was the beginning of the slow death of democracy and the rule of law in the country.
“It is condemnable that the administration railroads rules and processes for political vendetta. At the very least, the administration must show good faith and guarantee Senator de Lima’s safety and security,” said Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said that the arrest of de Lima could set a dangerous precedent. “By stopping at nothing to persecute Senator Leila, the state sends a chilling message to all—political dissent under this administration will not be tolerated. All those who will oppose will be destroyed,” she said.
Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th defended de Lima against what he described was “plunderer and murderer” President.
“The primary objective of the illegal arrest of Sen. De Lima is to send a chilling message to the political opposition and critics,” said Trillanes.
JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL