As It Happens

Senator fighting Philippine president's war on drugs charged without 'iota of evidence,' lawyer says

One of the staunchest opponents to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly war on drugs is now facing drug charges herself. Her lawyer told As It Happens the charges have been trumped up in a bid to silence her.
Philippine Senator Leila de Lima has been charged with drug trading, but says the allegations have been fabricated to silence her criticism of the president's deadly war on drugs. (Erik De Castro/Reuters)

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One of the staunchest opponents to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly war on drugs is now facing drug charges herself — but her lawyer says the charges have been trumped up in a bid to silence her.

Senator Leila de Lima was charged Friday by prosecutors accusing her of receiving bribes from detained drug lords. Her lawyer Alex Padilla says she expects to be arrested any day now. 

"She says quite proudly that she will become the first political prisoner of this administration, and I think that may be about to come true," Padilla told told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann Monday.

Prosecutors allege de Lima, while she was justice secretary under president Benigno Aquino, received huge bribes from detained drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign last year, and they say some of the drug lords would testify against her. The bribes were allegedly solicited by her former driver and lover, who was also charged.

There is a long history between Senator de Lima and President Duterte.- Alex Padillo, de Lima's lawyer 

"This is not the product of politics, this is the product of drug trading," Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said in announcing the charges.

But Padilla says the charges are  politically motivated. 

When de Lima was a top human rights official, he said she tried unsuccessfully to have Duterte prosecuted for unlawful deaths occurring during his anti-drug crackdown while he was mayor of the city of Davao.

On Aug. 22, 2016, Senator Leila De Lima gestures as she stands near relatives of slain people during a hearing investigating drug-related killings in the Philippines. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

When Duterte became president last year and expanded the crackdown nationwide, Senator de Lima launched an inquiry into thousands of killings at the hands of police and vigilantes.

"It's wrong. We cannot end drugs by ending lives. We cannot justify killing in the name of fighting or in the name of this so-called war against drugs," she told As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch at the time.

According to the national police chief in the Philippines, more than 1,900 people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. Now, Senator Leila de Lima is launching an inquiry into the killings she links to Duterte's his “war on drugs." 7:54

One month after launching that inquiry, she told CBC News she feared for her safety.

"There is a long history between Senator de Lima and President Duterte," Padillo said. "On the part of President Duterte, well, I would assume that he never forgave her for those intrusions."

Duterte has publicly lashed out at de Lima with foul language, calling her a sex-crazed immoral woman whose election opened "the portals of the national government ... to narco politics." 

'Not an iota of evidence'

While the allegations against the senator centre around bribery, Padillo says she's been charged with drug trading, a harsher crime for which she cannot be granted bail. If convicted, she faces life in prison.

"There was not an iota of evidence about drugs," he said.

De Lima also denies taking money from drug lords, he said. 

"Those alleging this were actually convicts who were getting immunity from prosecution," Padillo said. "I am confident that once we get into trial, we will be able to show the character of their witnesses, the paucity of their evidence and everything else that we believe was wrong about this investigation."

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose war on drugs has been linked to thousands of deaths, has called the senator a sex-crazed immoral woman. (Ezra Acayan/Reuters)

'A price I am willing to pay'

For her part, de Lima has remained steadfast.

"If the loss of my freedom is the price I have to pay for standing up against the butchery of the Duterte regime, then it is a price I am willing to pay," she said in a statement. "But they are mistaken if they think my fight ends here. It has only begun."

More than 7,700 people have been killed in the narcotics crackdown since Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, with about 2,500 of those dying in police operations.

Human rights groups believe many other deaths that police attributed to vigilantes were carried out by assassins likely colluding with police. The government and police vehemently deny extrajudicial killings have taken place.

With files from Reuters

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