Robredo to public: Be vigilant against silencing of gov't critics

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo accused the Duterte administration of "circumventing due process" to silence Senator Leila de Lima, who is facing charges for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison.

"Our history as a nation is marred by instances where government officials use the processes of criminal justice to cow, silence, and eliminate critics," Robredo said in a statement on Friday, February 24.

"These efforts to smear Senator De Lima are a strong indication that the charges against her arise from a political agenda and are not the result of an independent, unbiased legal process. These efforts began soon after she launched an investigation into the issue of extrajudicial killings under the present administration."

As the highest elected official of the Liberal Party, Robredo is the honorary chairperson of the party, which De Lima is a member of. 

Robredo warned the public to be vigilant and hold the government accountable for its actions.

"We cannot, and we must not, stand by and let this happen again. We must make sure that our government institutions remain uncorrupted and independent of each other, particularly when it comes to checks and balances in pursuit of accountability," said the Vice President.

"We exhort the people to follow and scrutinize this case religiously. Let us fight for the right to speak dissent, which is the foundation of our strength as a free and democratic nation," she added.

'Political prisoner'

De Lima surrendered to the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group on Friday morning after Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 issued an arrest warrant on Thursday afternoon, February 23. (READ: De Lima to join Revilla, Estrada in Crame jail

The senator is known to be Duterte's top critic in his bloody war against drugs. She also investigated him in the past over the supposed Davao Death Squad, during her time as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights.

De Lima has described herself as the Duterte administration's "first political prisoner."

The cases filed against the senator were based on the House probe into the alleged drug trade inside the national penitentiary with convicts as key witnesses.

Veteran human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, one of De Lima's legal counsels, raised the lack of credibility of criminals acting as witnesses.

"In my experiences as a lawyer, those kinds of witnesses are the least that we would want to believe," said Diokno. –

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.