Skip to main content

Philippine Court Clears Leading ‘Drug War’ Critic

Leila de Lima’s Acquittal Should Prompt President Marcos to Assist ICC Probe

Former senator and human rights lawyer Leila de Lima (center right) acknowledges supporters after a court acquitted her of the last criminal charges against her, outside the court in Muntinlupa, Manila, Philippines, June 24, 2024.  © 2024 Jam Sta Rosa/AFP via Getty Images

A Philippine court has dismissed the last pending criminal case against former senator Leila de Lima, ending a seven-year legal battle brought by then-President Rodrigo Duterte against one of the country’s preeminent human rights defenders.

The case, for alleged drug dealing, was among three charges filed against de Lima that led to her detention in police custody for more than six years. Prior to her arrest, de Lima had campaigned on behalf of thousands of the victims of extrajudicial killings resulting from Duterte’s “war on drugs.”

“You will now be held responsible for your sins to the people,” de Lima told reporters on Monday outside a courthouse in Metro Manila, referring to the former president. Duterte, she said, “will be held responsible. He should be held accountable.”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been investigating possible crimes against humanity committed between November 2011 and March 2019 in the context of Duterte’s “drug war” and when he was mayor of Davao Cityon the southern island of Mindanao. While Duterte announced the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC in 2018, the court can still try crimes occurring before the withdrawal took effect in 2019.

De Lima’s legal and political saga parallels the trajectory of the “war on drugs.” She had opposed Duterte’s brutal policies from the start when she was chair of the national Commission on Human Rights and later as a senator, when she launched a senate inquiry into nationwide killings that became rampant after Duterte became president in 2016. Duterte’s administration filed drug charges against her and she was arrested in 2017. She was granted bail only last year.

De Lima’s acquittal should prompt the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to act more decisively in holding accountable authorities implicated in “drug war” killings, including those still happening under his watch. Marcos should acknowledge the need for accountability, especially since out of the thousands of killings during Duterte’s term, only four cases have resulted in a court conviction so far, including the June 18 conviction of four police officers for killing a father and son in 2016. This dismal record underscores the need for the ICC’s investigation and for the Marcos administration to fully cooperate with the court.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country