11/24/2023, 17.14
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After her release, De Lima to continue the fight for justice

The former justice minister, an opponent of Duterte, spent more than six years in prison on unproven charges of complicity with drug trafficking. In an interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa, she has harsh words for the former president. Duterte “offering himself to be the opposition” is “pathetic”. During his term in office, 427 human rights defenders were killed and thousands arrested and imprisoned, including De Lima.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Leila De Lima, 64, a former Minister of Justice of the Philippines, was released on 13 November after spending six years and eight months in "preventive detention" without concrete evidence that she received money from drug traffickers.

An opponent of former President Rodrigo Duterte, she spoke last night in her first interview since she was freed. "I do have a role,” she said. “And my role is to continue portraying myself as someone who has been wronged and someone who can continue to inspire others to do what is right, to do what is just,” she said.

Maria Ressa, a Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and founder of Rappler, an independent news website, spoke with her. Although De Lima is not planning any political comeback, she is convinced that she has a new task to carry out for her country and herself.

"God forgive him," De Lima said about former President Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022), whom he holds directly responsible for her imprisonment.

Just a few days ago, Duterte said on TV that an opposition is essential to a democracy, adding that mistakes of the government should be called out “so the administration will know about it.”

Duterte’s statement about the supposed importance of the opposition was inconsistent with how he treated dissenters during his term.

Duterte is “now offering himself to be the opposition. It’s pathetic, to me. It’s a pathetic scene to me,” De Lima said.

When he was president, progressive individuals were frequently red-tagged for standing up against the government, while some were either killed or detained.

From July 2016 to December 2021, 427 human rights defenders were killed while another 2,807 were arrested under Duterte's warrant, this according to 2021 data provided by human rights organisation Karapatan.

De Lima is a perfect example of how Duterte silenced his critics and how he viewed the opposition. The senator harshly criticised Duterte for his brutal war on drugs, which has killed nearly 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights groups.

In view of her opposition, De Lima was accused of enabling illegal drug trafficking inside New Bilibid Prison during her tenure as justice minister and of funding her run for senator in 2016 with drug money.

According to the former senator – and many international organisations – the charges were politically motivated.

After Duterte left office, many witnesses who had testified against De Lima changed their version of events, greatly weakening the accusations against her.

The anti-drug campaign has been scaled back after Ferdinand Marco Jr., son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was elected president last year.

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