ELECTIONS 2022: Group calls for De Lima’s release, accountability for persecution

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FILE PHOTO: Then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa (R) points at the nose of Kerwin Espinosa, who according to police is a top drug lord in the central Philippines, following his surrender to authorities, during a news conference at the PNP headquarters in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines November 18, 2016. Espinosa previously implicated Senator Leila de Lima when she was still the Justice Secretary in his own involvement in the illegal drug trade. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan.
FILE PHOTO: Then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa (R) points at the nose of Kerwin Espinosa, who according to police is a top drug lord in the central Philippines, following his surrender to authorities, during a news conference at the PNP headquarters in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines November 18, 2016. Espinosa previously implicated Senator Leila de Lima when she was still the Justice Secretary in his own involvement in the illegal drug trade. REUTERS/Ezra Acayan.

Following self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa’s retraction of previous statements against detained Senator Leila de Lima, a human rights group has called for the Senator’s release from prison, and accountability to those behind her political persecution.

“Following Espinosa’s retraction, the government must immediately and unconditionally release Senator Leila de Lima, and hold accountable those responsible for her unjust detention and the various human rights violations she has had to endure,” said Butch Olano, Section Director of Amnesty International Philippines.

In his counter-affidavit submitted to the Department of Justice on April 28, Espinosa recanted all of his allegations against Senator de Lima, saying he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened by the police” to “invent stories” against Senator de Lima.

He also belied all of his statements during the Senate hearings, and said that he never had any “dealings with Sen. de Lima and [had] not given her any money at any given time.” Espinosa previously claimed that he gave de Lima when she was still the Justice Secretary a total of P8 million campaign funds through her driver Ronnie Dayan in exchange for protection in his own involvement in the illegal drug trade.

Meanwhile, candidates in unison called for the immediate release of the Senator. “Napakalaking sampal sa katarungan ang mahigit limang taong pagkakapiit ni Senator Leila. Palayain na si Senator Leila, agad-agad! (Senator Leila's imprisonment of more than five years is a huge blow to justice. Release Senator Leila, immediately!)” said vice presidential candidate and Senator Kiko Pangilinan in a statement.

Another VP bet Walden Bello, whose platform includes unconditional and immediate release of de Lima once he took office, has also called for her release, and dismissed the cases against the senator as “nothing else but the president’s vindictiveness. “One of the key elements of Ka Leody and my campaign has been the unconditional release of this long-suffering victim of a frame-up … Release Senator de Lima now.”

“The trumped up charges against Sen. Leila de Lima have now crumbled. She should be freed now,” Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares said.

Meanwhile, de Lima’s legal counsel said that in light of this, they are now exploring whatever legal remedies available for the Senator. “We will surely take to justice all the persons involved in the great injustice done to Sen. de Lima,” said Atty. Rolly Peoro, Sen. de Lima’s legal counsel.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.

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