Philippines: Six years on, arbitrary detention of former Senator Leila de Lima continues

Amnesty International reiterates its urgent call for the Philippine authorities to immediately drop the fabricated charges against prisoner of conscience and former Senator Leila de Lima, and ensure her immediate and unconditional release ahead of her sixth year in arbitrary detention.

“It is a travesty that Leila de Lima has endured six years in detention after bogus charges were brought against her in cases that have utterly collapsed. As witness after witness withdraws their testimony, the Marcos administration must put an end to her ongoing persecution,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International.  

Since April 2022, several key witnesses have recanted their testimonies against de Lima, saying they were coerced and threatened by former government officials to fabricate allegations against her. These witnesses include Rafael Ragos, a former acting chief of the Bureau of Corrections, who said he was forced to “manufacture lies” by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and other senior officials.  

It is a travesty that Leila de Lima has endured six years in detention after bogus charges were brought against her in cases that have utterly collapsed.

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International

“The numerous retractions of fabricated testimonies and alarming allegations of coercion are further damning evidence of the government’s undeniable role in de Lima’s arbitrary and lengthy detention, which clearly violates her rights to liberty, presumption of innocence and other fair trial guarantees.”

Apart from having to endure prolonged detention, de Lima’s life was threatened when she was held hostage inside her detention cell on 9 October 2022 by a knife-wielding inmate as he was trying to escape. The suspect and his two companions were killed by the police, but there has been no further investigation into the incident, particularly the lapses in security that allowed the suspect to enter de Lima’s detention cell.  

“The Marcos administration must ensure the immediate and unconditional release of de Lima and drop all charges against her. The authorities must also conduct a thorough, independent, transparent and effective investigation into the attacks against her. Those responsible for violations of her rights since her arrest, including her arbitrary detention, must be brought to justice in fair trials,” Chhoa-Howard said.

“De Lima should never have spent a day in prison, but instead she’s languished there for six years. The government must urgently give her the freedom and justice she deserves after such an appalling ordeal.”


Leila de Lima has been detained at the headquarters of the Philippine National Police since her arrest on 24 February 2017 on drug-related charges. As a human rights activist and former Senator, she has been one of the staunchest critics of the human rights violations under the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Since her arrest, Amnesty International, alongside many other domestic and international organizations, has repeatedly said that the charges against her were fabricated, and that the testimonies by witnesses against her were manufactured.

The authorities arrested de Lima after she had sought to investigate violations committed in the context of the so-called “war on drugs”, including the extrajudicial execution of thousands of suspected drug offenders, which Amnesty has said may amount to crimes against humanity. As in the case of de Lima, there has been almost no justice or accountability for the victims of these abuses and their families.

Court proceedings against de Lima in the last six years have been marked by undue delays, including the repeated failure of prosecution witnesses to appear in court and changes in judges handling the cases against her. In 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the detention of de Lima was arbitrary and in absence of legal basis, and that her right to a fair trial was being violated.

The arbitrary detention of de Lima continues under the broader context of increasing impunity for human rights violations in the country, including killings, threats and harassment of political activists, human rights defenders, members of the media, and other targeted groups.

The country’s human rights situation worsened under the previous Duterte administration and recent similar cases have also been recorded during the Marcos administration, including the October 2022 murder of journalist Percy Lapid and the killing of two activists in Negros province in November 2022.