On Wednesday, a Philippine court denied bail for former Senator Leila de Lima, who has unjustly been in police detention for more than six years. De Lima has already been acquitted in two of the three separate drug cases brought against her. The European Union and other governments should press President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to drop the remaining charges and release de Lima.
The denial of bail for de Lima request illustrates the dysfunction and politicized nature of the Philippines justice system. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines has ratified, states that it “shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody.” At least two witnesses against de Lima were convicted drug dealers, one of whom has recanted, while another key witness, former prisons official Rafael Ragos, retracted his testimony. This retraction led to de Lima being acquitted of another charge, but the court, which ignored both the retraction and acquittal before denying her bail, ignored this.
The case reflects larger unaddressed human rights concerns in the Philippines. Despite Marcos’s promises of reform, more than 300 drug-related killings have occurred since he assumed office one year ago, continuing former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “drug war,” which amount to crimes against humanity. Activists, journalists, trade unionists, and critics of the government are still targets of arbitrary arrest, torture, and enforced disappearance. The Nobel Prize laureate and journalist Maria Ressa faces politically motivated charges.
Despite the government’s serious rights violations, the Philippines continue to benefit from the EU Generalized Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+), which grants tariff reductions based on the country’s respect of international human rights conventions. While the EU has expressed concerns over de Lima’s case and other abuses, it is yet to publicly indicate benchmarks that the Philippines should meet in order to comply with its human rights obligations and retain its GSP+ benefits. The European Parliament has repeatedly urged the withdrawal of the Philippines’ approval for the scheme if a lack of progress persists.
The continuing persecution of Leila de Lima is a bellwether of the human rights situation in the Philippines. The EU and other governments should take a firm stand and be clear that without her release, there can be no business as usual.