Philippines: Leila de Lima’s acquittal a long-overdue step towards justice

Responding to the news that a court in the Philippines dropped one of two drug-related cases against former Senator Leila de Lima, Amnesty International’s interim Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer said: 

“The partial acquittal of prisoner of conscience and human rights defender Leila de Lima was long overdue. While justice has been slow for her, it follows years of arbitrary detention and other human rights violations she has had to endure. 

“We urge the authorities to also quash the remaining drug case and to ensure that her application for temporary freedom in this pending case is processed speedily and fairly. The authorities must not delay her release any longer and allow her to be reunited with her family, friends and supporters after six long years.  

We urge the authorities to also quash the remaining drug case and to ensure that her application for temporary freedom in this pending case is processed speedily and fairly.

Montse Ferrer, Interim Deputy Regional Director for Research, Amnesty International

“Since her arbitrary detention in 2017, Amnesty International and many other civil society groups have maintained that the charges against Leila de Lima are bogus and the result of the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression. She should not have spent a single day in jail, and it is now time to provide adequate reparations for the human rights violations she has suffered.  

“Beyond Leila de Lima’s long-overdue release, the Marcos administration must work towards holding accountable those responsible for her arbitrary detention, which clearly violated her rights to liberty, presumption of innocence and other fair trial guarantees.”  


A Muntinlupa court on 12 May acquitted prisoner of conscience and former Senator Leila de Lima in one of two cases filed against her for conspiring to commit trade of illegal drugs. In the other drug-related case, which is still pending, a different Muntinlupa court deferred its decision on de Lima’s application for bail. For her to be released, her bail application in the other case needs to be approved. It is unclear when that court will issue its decision. 

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 sought to investigate violations committed in the context of the so-called “war on drugs” under the former Duterte administration, including the extrajudicial execution of thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs, 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 because of the lack of legal basis and the non-observance of international norms relating to the right to a fair trial. 

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