THE US State Department on Tuesday urged the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to resolve the last drug trafficking case against former Senator Leila M. de Lima, who was allowed to post bail on Monday after spending almost seven years in jail.
“The United States urges the Philippines to resolve the remaining case against her in a manner that is consistent with its international human rights obligations and commitments,” spokesman Matthew Alan Miller said in a statement.
A Philippine trial court on Monday ordered the release of Ms. de Lima, who was jailed in 2017 on drug trafficking charges that she said were fabricated to muzzle her investigation of then-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
In a 69-page order Muntinlupa Judge Gener M. Gito reversed an earlier decision and granted her request for bail while being tried in a final drug case.
Ms. De Lima “should be allowed to post bail as the prosecution was not able to discharge its burden of establishing that the guilt of the said accused is strong,” the judge said in the order dated Nov. 10.
Four witnesses earlier retracted their testimonies against the former lawmaker, all of them claiming to have been coerced into giving false testimonies by the Duterte government.
Two of the three cases against Ms. De Lima have been dismissed and she had sought bail in the one pending case on health grounds.
Her first drug case was dismissed in 2021 and the Ombudsman cleared her of bribery charges for lack of evidence last year.
Another Muntinlupa trial court in May acquitted Ms. De Lima and her former aide in the second drug trafficking case. The court said the recantation by a former prison director who had testified against her created reasonable doubt.
In a post on the X social media platform late Monday, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office also called for Ms. de Lima’s remaining drug case to be dropped.
“We are relieved human rights defender and former Senator Leila de Lima has finally been granted bail after over six years in pre-trial detention,” the UN office said.
Amnesty International has said the government had deprived the ex-senator of her right to a fair trial through her arbitrary detention.
Last month, former police Major Rodolfo T. Magleo and former Sergeant Nonilo Arile took back their allegations against Ms. de Lima, saying they were “bothered by their conscience.” Before this, four witnesses recanted their testimonies against her.
Ms. De Lima, 64, faced various charges in 2017 within months of launching a Senate inquiry into Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign, in which thousands of drug users and dealers were killed in police drug raids.
She incurred Mr. Duterte’s ire when, as chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights, she started a probe in 2009 into extrajudicial killings by the so-called Davao Death Squad in the tough-talking leader’s hometown, where he was the long-time mayor. Mr. Duterte later vowed to “destroy” her.
Mr. Duterte’s drug war is now being investigated by the International Criminal Court for possible “crimes against humanity.”
Political experts have said her detention showed how the government had abused the justice system.
The government estimates that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers were killed in police operations. Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 suspects died.
Philippine civil society has stepped up efforts to hold into account perpetrators of human rights violations under the Duterte government, political analysts said.
But it’s too early to say whether Mr. Marcos has totally veered away from his predecessor’s policy direction since he has refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.
“This case is just one among many involving human rights defenders currently undergoing trial in our country,” Rommel Yamzon, secretary general of the Philippine Alliance for Human Rights Advocates, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“With over a hundred political detainees and prisoners across various facilities, there is still much work to be done to claim an improvement in the human rights situation under this present administration,” he added.
Ms. de Lima’s release comes at a time when the Philippines is boosting security ties with the US and other western democracies in a major shift from Mr. Duterte’s foreign policy.
Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said Ms. de Lima’s release does not mean Mr. Marcos is on a liberal path.
“This is more connected to the ongoing tensions within the coalition,” he said via Messenger chat. “The temporary release is part of the ongoing saga of this tension between the Marcos-Romualdez and Duterte-Arroyo factions.”
“After this we can expect another offensive, this time, seeing the Philippine government finally deciding to cooperate with the ICC on its case against Duterte.”
He was referring to the conflict between the camp of Speaker and presidential cousin Martin G. Romualdez and the faction of ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who supports Mr. Duterte and his daughter Vice-President Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Mr. Marcos, 66, has veered away from some key policies of his predecessor including standing up to China.
“It is too much to expect President Marcos to support human rights or liberalism,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, who teaches political science at UP, said in a Viber message. But he appears to be trying to distinguish himself from Mr. Duterte in the areas of diplomacy and foreign policy, she said.
“While Duterte faces scrutiny by the ICC, Western countries and international human rights advocates, the Marcos government has been courting the international community and presenting itself as a good global nation,” she added.
Ms. de Lima’s eventual acquittal could bolster the Marcos image and prove that he’s different from Mr. Duterte, she said.
“This may just be a case of the Marcos camp making use of the cards available to them to gain an upper hand in the ongoing feud in the Marcos-Duterte coalition,” WR Numero Chief Executive Officer and President Cleve V. Arguelles said via Messenger chat.
In-fighting within the ruling coalition could even push Mr. Marcos to be an unusual ally in demanding accountability from the Duterte administration. “Admittedly strange, but not unprecedented.”
“After this we can expect another offensive, this time, seeing the Philippine government finally deciding to cooperate with the ICC in its case against Duterte,” he added.
NOTE: This story was corrected