Drop 'politically-motivated' charges vs De Lima, Bello: group

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2023 06:47 PM

MANILA -- The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights urged the Philippine government Friday to drop the “politically-motivated” charges against former lawmakers Walden Bello and Leila de Lima. 

The group also called on ASEAN governments to stop weaponizing the law against critics.

“We call on Southeast Asian authorities to stop abusing the legal system to stifle dissent and urge ASEAN to reprimand member states that continue to use lawfare to attack political opposition,” APHR Chairperson and Indonesia House of Representatives Member Mercy Barends said in a press conference.

“The Philippine government can take the first step by dropping all charges against Walden Bello and Leila de Lima and ultimately releasing Senator Leila de Lima and others that have been unjustly detained due to politically motivated charges,” she added.

APHR Co-Chairperson and former Malaysia Parliament Member Charles Santiago also echoed the same sentiment.

“What we have in the Philippines and the rest of the ASEAN region is the weaponization of the law… It is quite clear that there is no evidence against Sen. Leila de Lima. The main key witnesses have recanted, withdrawn their statement against her. So there is no reason why she still should be in prison,” Santiago said.

“Now we have the weaponization of the law, which are used against members of parliament who have been constitutionally mandated to protect and promote the rights of people,” he added.

Free Leila Committee Convenor Atty. Tony La Vina expects de Lima to be released from detention in around a month. 

He is optimistic about getting another favorable ruling on the remaining two of the three charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade. One was dismissed in February 2021 due to weak evidence.

“Leila is in a courtroom in Muntinlupa... One of the final hearings for the bail part of that case. We expect that case to probably end in a couple of weeks or a month or so, and we expect her to be ordered to be released. Because there’s no factual basis at all, the witnesses have recanted,” La Viña said.

“There’s another case that’s also pending, that’s nearing resolution… Someone like me who’s more optimistic, we think, probably by February, we might be able to get a positive resolution,” he added.

Bello, for his part, is confident about winning the libel and cyber libel cases filed against him by former Davao City information officer and Vice President Sara Duterte’s Media and Public Relations Division Chief Jefry Tupas.

“We are very confident that we are going to win this case. I am in very good hands,” he said.

“Having gone to Davao, we felt it is also important come back to Manila with onions… This is a reminder to our public officials that they should not be onion-skinned,” Bello added.