MANILA - Detained Sen. Leila de Lima on Monday criticized the Department of Justice (DOJ) for asking a Muntinlupa court to cite her and her legal counsel in contempt, asserting her "constitutional right to an open and public trial."
Government prosecutors earlier filed a petition for indirect contempt against De Lima and her lawyer, Boni Tacardon, for allegedly violating the court's sub judice rule after they released to the media a series of developments in the hearing of the senator's illegal drug cases.
"The DOJ wants to silence me and my lawyers in these cases because they know they are conducting a witch hunt, and a trial by burning at the stake," De Lima said in a statement.
"Kapag paninira at puro kasinungalingan, gusto nila todo publicity... Kapag naman katotohanan na ang lumalabas, gusto nilang busalan ako at isekreto ang mga testimonyang paborable sa akin at magpapatunay na inosente ako," she said.
(If it is about besmirching me or about lies, they want full publicity... But if it is about the truth, they want to muzzle me and ensure that testimonies in favor of my case and my innocence are kept as secrets.)
De Lima, a former DOJ Secretary and chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, said it is her right to "debunk" lies hurled against her.
"It is of public knowledge that even before the trial in my cases and during the early stages thereof, Mr. Duterte has been spewing lies about my alleged drug links and has openly and repeatedly prejudged my guilt," De Lima said.
"Now tell me – don’t I have the right to now debunk those lies using the court testimonies of witnesses, and Duterte’s own witnesses at that?" she said.
State prosecutors moved to cite De Lima and her lawyer in contempt after the senators' camp shared with the media that the prosecution failed to present Sally Serrano, allegedly a niece of convicted drug lord Peter Co, for the third time.
De Lima's camp had also questioned several changes made in the affidavit of convicted drug lord Jaybee Sebastian, who had died in prison in July allegedly due to COVID-19.
Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Darwin Cañete admitted to reporters that the idea of citing De Lima in contempt came from a pro-Duterte blogger.
"There is only one reason why a government and its prosecution arm, in this case the DOJ, would want our camp barred from sharing with the public the trial developments, particularly the material points or truths extracted from my lawyers’ cross examination of prosecution witnesses," De Lima said.
"It is to hide the trial from the public. It is to deny transparency to the conduct of the trial. It is to hide from the world the fabrication and manufacturing of evidence and testimony used to convict the innocent. It is to make a kangaroo court out of the judiciary."
De Lima has been detained in the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Quezon City since 2017 for allegedly profitting from the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary.
The opposition senator has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying she was being politically persecuted for investigating possible human rights violations committed during President Rodrigo Duterte's intensified campaign against illegal drugs.
In January 2020, the Supreme Court junked De Lima's petition seeking to stop Duterte's verbal attacks against her, citing the President's immunity from lawsuits.
De Lima asserted that while cases cannot be filed against a sitting President, Duterte's tirades should still be considered unlawful as they were made outside his official conduct.
But the high court rejected her plea, saying presidential immunity recognizes no qualifications.