MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Jailed Philippine human rights activist Leila de Lima was denied bail Wednesday on the remaining drug trafficking charge filed against her during former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, her lawyer said.
De Lima, one of the most outspoken local critics of Duterte and his deadly drug war, has been detained for more than six years on charges she insists were fabricated to silence her.
“Sad to inform you that the Court denied Sen. Leila’s bail application,” her lawyer Filibon Tacardon said in a message to journalists, adding he was “in shock” at the decision.
The ruling followed another court’s verdict on May 12 that acquitted the former senator and justice minister of a separate drug trafficking charge.
The 63-year-old is accused of taking money from inmates inside the country’s largest prison in exchange for allowing them to sell drugs while justice minister from 2010 to 2015 under then-leader Benigno Aquino.
She initially faced three charges. Two have been dismissed as the prosecution’s case falls apart, with multiple witnesses dying or recanting their testimonies.
De Lima, a mother of two, faces life in prison if she is convicted on the remaining charge.
In denying the bail application, Judge Romeo Buenaventura said the evidence against de Lima and her co-accused was “strong”.
He said “there is a great probability that the crime charged has been committed”, according to a copy of the ruling shared with reporters.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde said the decision “flies in the face of her previous court acquittal in two cases, which clearly showed the political nature of her persecution”.
Health issues ‘not life threatening’
Since President Ferdinand Marcos came into office last June there have been renewed calls from human rights groups, foreign diplomats and politicians for de Lima’s release.
While in jail she suffered various health problems, including a pelvic organ prolapse that required surgery.
In October 2022, she was briefly taken hostage during an attempted breakout by three detained militants.
But Judge Buenaventura said de Lima’s age and health were “not compelling” grounds for bail.
“The accused herself admitted that though she is already a senior citizen and has several health issues, she is not suffering from any serious or life-threatening health condition,” he said.
Before her arrest on February 24, 2017, de Lima had spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as Davao City mayor and in the early days of his presidency.
She conducted the probes while serving as the nation’s human rights commissioner, and then from 2010 to 2015 as justice minister in the Aquino administration that preceded Duterte’s rule.
After winning a Senate seat in the 2016 elections that also swept populist Duterte to power, de Lima became one of the few opposition voices.
Duterte then accused her of running a drug trafficking ring with criminals when she was justice secretary, forcing her from the Senate and into a jail cell.
De Lima lost her bid for re-election in May 2022 after campaigning from behind bars. Duterte, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a second term as president, stepped down the following month.
Throughout the proceedings, de Lima has insisted the charges against her had been trumped up in retaliation for going after Duterte and his drug war that killed thousands of people.