De Lima arrest a warning to other Duterte critics (video)

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If there is one message from the arrest of Philippine Senator Leila De Lima it is that the Duterte administration is going after its critics in earnest, apparently with the aim of silencing them using whatever means is convenient.

Personnel from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) arrested Ms De Lima, a long-time critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte early last Friday morning, February 24.

Her foreshadowed arrest came after Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) found “sufficient probable cause” to order her arrest for alleged involvement in the drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) while justice secretary. Her accusers? Not just convicted drug traffickers, but so-called “drug lords”.

A strong critic of Mr Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ which has seen more than 7,000 people, mostly suspected drug sellers and users killed, Ms De Lima also pursued allegations that Mr Duterte maintained the so-called “Davao Death Squad (DDS)” while he was mayor of the Philippines’ largest city as head of the justice department under former President Benigno Aquino III.

While President Duterte has denied that Ms De Lima’s arrest is politically motivated, his pronouncements and actions and those of his cronies speak otherwise.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II apparently confirmed this during a recent rally of Duterte supporters at Luneta Park when he asked the people there who they want to be arrested next. The same justice secretary who is under fire for allegedly providing the inmates who testified against Ms De Lima with air conditioners and access to mobile phones and internet while they were detained during Senate hearings last year.

For other Duterte critics, such as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, also a member of the same Liberal Party as Ms De Lima, the risk of following in her footsteps is not without merit. Mr Trillanes, however, said he is unfazed by the threat of arrest and imprisonment.

In an ABS-CBN article Mr Trillanes said “the primary objective of the illegal arrest of Senator De Lima is to send a chilling message to the political opposition and critics that they could be next. Well, the effect to me is exactly the opposite”, he said.

Mr Trillanes has accused Mr Duterte of corruption, claiming that he and his family maintain secret bank accounts with multi-billion peso deposits.

Earlier, Vice President Leni Robredo, another party-mate of De Lima and Trillanes, was booted out of the Cabinet (Ms Robredo claimed she resigned) after voicing opposition to some policies and initiatives of the Duterte administration.

And it continues. In the Senate yesterday Mr Duterte’s allies removed Liberal Party Senator Drilon as Senate President Pro-Tempore, the second highest post in Philippines Senate, while fellow party-member Senators Aquino, Hontiveros, and Pangilinan were removed from their committee chairmanships. Criticise at your own risk, as the saying goes.

These recent political developments show that it is not only in mining matters where the rule of law in the Philippines is buckling under the strain (See: Billions of Dollars in Litigation Awaits Philippines Mine Closures).

While one judge has been able to be convinced that the evidence of convicted drug lords is strong enough for a prima facie case likely leading to a successful prosecution of Ms De Lima exists, two entire houses of parliament have been unable to agree the same against Mr Duterte.

Retired Philippine National Police (PNP) Senior Police Officer class 3 (SPO3) Arturo Lascañas claims he killed for pay on the orders of President Duterte when the latter was Mayor of Davao.
Video uploaded to YouTube by: Rappler

Despite his own admissions of having been involved with death squads and having killed people, along with statements by one self confessed hit man and a former police officer who says he killed on Mr Duterte’s orders (and payment), Philippine politicians are proving more difficult to convince than a RTC judge.

To say that the rule of law in the Philippines is under stress is an understatement, but so to is how much Filipinos cherish the changes that came with the EDSA People Power Revolution 31-years ago, and what sort of society they want for themselves and their children.



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