Palace to rights group: De Lima no ‘prisoner of conscience’

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 14 2018 04:59 PM

MANILA - Malacañang on Wednesday slammed non-government organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) for calling for the dropping of drug charges against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, saying the top critic of President Rodrigo Duterte is no “prisoner of conscience.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said HRW’s call “is nothing but sheer meddling with our country’s domestic affairs.”

“We condemn this continued interference not only because it misleads the public, but because it mocks the integrity of our justice system,” Roque said in a statement.

“Senator De Lima is being portrayed as a prisoner of conscience, a so-called martyr for justice. She is none of these; she is facing charges of criminal nature, plain and simple.”

Roque added that De Lima’s arrest was ordered by an independent court and strictly followed legal procedure.

“Senator De Lima’s case is now pending before the local court. Let us allow the legal process to proceed accordingly.”

De Lima, a neophyte senator who had served as human rights commissioner and justice secretary, has been among the President's most vocal critics.

Even in detention, De Lima has continued to criticize Duterte’s policies and controversial statements.

De Lima was arrested nearly a year ago over allegations that she was involved in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison during her time as justice chief. 

She has denied the charges, saying the government’s witnesses against her are convicted criminals with highly questionable credibility. She has also branded her prosecution as political harassment. 

The New York-based human rights group had on Wednesday called on government to drop its “politically motivated” charges against De Lima, as the senator is set to mark her first year in detention on Feb. 24.

“President Duterte saw to the arrest of Senator de Lima a year ago to vilify her for her strident and principled opposition to his murderous drug war,” said Phelim Kine, HRW deputy Asia director.

“Instead, her prosecution has only raised her global stature and brought greater attention to Duterte’s demolition of the rule of law and respect for human rights.”