ELECTIONS 2022: Leila de Lima. Free her. Now.

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Senator Leila De Lima attends the Senate drug hearing at the Senate building in Manila on November 23, 2016. 
Kerwin Espinosa, son of the late mayor Rolando Espinosa, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates last month and will face drug trafficking charges. / AFP / NOEL CELIS        (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Senator Leila De Lima attends the Senate drug hearing at the Senate building in Manila on November 23, 2016. Kerwin Espinosa, son of the late mayor Rolando Espinosa, was arrested in the United Arab Emirates last month and will face drug trafficking charges. (Photo: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

After the events of Thursday (April 28), the facts couldn’t have been more clear – Senator Leila de Lima, who is spending her fifth year in prison, is never guilty of all the crimes that the government is alleging her.

To be honest, nobody needs Kerwin Espinosa, a self-confessed drug lord, and his counter-affidavit to prove that Senator de Lima is not what President Rodrigo Duterte and his ilk are painting her as. By closely following the events that led to her ultimate demise, one could clearly see some patterns of grave impunity and injustice.

As the then chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, de Lima filed a resolution to investigate the so-called Davao Death Squad, a touchy subject for the president that irked him whenever he was asked about it. Since then, she lost the chairpersonship of the committee, and President Duterte used the entire machinery of the government to vilify and dehumanize her – a House investigation probed her personal affair, even her sex life.

Then comes the barrage of trumped-up charges of supposed violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2022. With the president and his tight grip on all branches of the government, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court issued an arrest warrant, and up until this moment, she’s in prison.

Aside from Espinosa’s retraction of his statements on Sen. de Lima, she’s already acquitted on one of the three charges the government has filed against her, proving that these cases are nothing more than theatrics and a waste of public money that should’ve been allotted to a more meaningful government program, say, more medical equipment for our medical frontliners.

And so, with all these on hand, what’s next?

The government must immediately, and unconditionally, release Sen. de Lima. Any time she spent in prison from here on out is a clear violation of her human rights. In a tweet, she said: “Duterte and his minions used the whole might and abused the power of the government just to destroy and send me to prison. As their power comes to an end, so will their lies, and the truth shall finally set me free.”

Her persecutors must likewise be held accountable for her unjust imprisonment. She should also be compensated for all the years of character assassination and demolition jobs. The main culprit – none other than the current occupier of Malacañang – must answer for all the crimes that he committed, whether in local courts or in the international tribunal.

Sen. de Lima did not deserve all the hate and vitriol thrown against her and she deserves to be reelected to the Senate. If being detained didn’t prevent her from filing at least 600 bills and resolutions since 2017, and passing important laws like the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps, imagine what more she can do if she’s free to do her job without the constraints of an authoritarian government.

Time must not delay any longer. Free Leila de Lima, now.

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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