MANILA — Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Saturday criticized the Duterte administration after the release of former senator Jinggoy Estrada from detention, saying the "exoneration of plunderers is almost complete."
With Estrada's release, De Lima said lawmakers might as well decriminalize plunder because the current administration seems to provide "virtual amnesty" to those charged with the crime.
". . . Congress might as well decriminalize the crime of plunder and repeal the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act because they have become useless and worthless under Duterte and his virtual amnesty program for the country's top plunderers," she said in a statement.
A former justice chief, De Lima in 2013 headed the filing of charges against Estrada and former senators Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr. and Juan Ponce Enrile for their alleged involvement in a "pork barrel" scam.
In 2014, the 3 were detained at the Custodial Center in Camp Crame, where De Lima is also now detained on drug charges for her alleged involvement in the illegal-drug trade at the national penitentiary.
Enrile was granted bail in 2015, while Estrada was released on Saturday. Revilla meanwhile is still detained.
De Lima hit the Duterte administration for "trademark impunity" that it allegedly applied to the Sandiganbayan.
A fierce critic of the administration, De Lima said Duterte is practicing an "absolute dictatorship."
"What we have now is an absolute dictatorship, with a president able to dictate on Congress and now, the judiciary, and with a Congress and a judiciary that allow themselves to be dictated upon as such," she said.
The former justice chief noted that the anti-graft court had denied Estrada bail and has recently allowed the motion because magistrates at the court think that Estrada is "not a flight risk."
"Is the judiciary now introducing new procedure and doctrines just to accommodate the whims of the president?" she asked.
". . . A reconstituted Sandiganbayan Division with Duterte appointees suddenly finds cause to set Estrada free not because they now find the evidence weak, but because the court thinks that Estrada is not a flight risk," she said.
De Lima argued that if the anti-graft court uses such reasoning now, she should be "the very first person" granted bail since she went on a trip abroad and voluntarily surrendered to arresting officers earlier this year.
"When the time of my arrest came, I voluntarily surrendered to the arresting officers. If that is NOT being a flight risk, then I don't know what is," she said.
The just-released Estrada maintained his innocence, saying he has forgiven De Lima and leaves the fate of his accusers to God.
"Bahala na po ang Diyos sa kanila . . . Wala po akong kasalanan," he said.