May 19, 2017
The Law Society of Upper Canada expresses grave concern about the arrest and detention of Senator Leila de Lima in the Philippines.
Senator Leila de Lima is a lawyer, human rights activist and politician. She served as Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights from May 2008 to June 30, 2010, then as the Secretary of the Department of Justice from July 2, 2010 to October 12, 2015. Currently, she sits as a senator in the Philippines’ 17th Congress, having assumed office on June 30, 2016. From July 25, 2016 to September 19, 2016, she was the Chair of the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee.
It has come to the Law Society’s attention that on February 23, 2017, the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court in Metro Manila issued a warrant for Senator de Lima’s arrest. She is accused of receiving bribes from detained drug lords during her tenure as Justice Secretary and faces three criminal charges under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. If found guilty, she faces 12 years to life in prison. The charges are based, in part, on accusations by inmates of New Bilibid Prison who, according to sources in both the Bureau of Corrections and the Philippine National Police, were bribed by current Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre for their testimony. More specifically, Aguirre purportedly authorized the provision of material benefits to the inmates – including televisions, cell phones, Internet access and air conditioning units – after they provided testimony against Senator de Lima.
The Senator denies the charges against her and maintains that she is being politically persecuted for being a vocal critic of the Philippine government’s war on drugs, a campaign which has engendered thousands of extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations of mostly poor, defenceless victims. Many believe that by arresting and detaining Senator de Lima, the Philippine government is attempting to silence criticism of its deadly anti-drug crackdown and to divert attention away from the corollary human rights violations.