In the Philippines, President Duterte’s national police and unknown armed persons have killed thousands of people suspected of using or selling drugs. These killings appear to be systematic — those that are killed are overwhelmingly from poor, urban neighborhoods. In many cases, police have tried to cover up unlawful killings by planting evidence at crime scenes and falsifying incident reports.
One voice has been strongly vocal and critical against Duterte’s policies: Senator Leila de Lima. The Senator voiced her concerns against Duterte’s “war on drugs” and has been imprisoned on politically motivated charges since February 24, 2017.
Shortly after President Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, Senator de Lima voiced her concern regarding the increasing number of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug offenders. Following this, the President and other state officials began a campaign of harassment and intimidation against her.
As Chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Senator De Lima opened a Senate Inquiry into unlawful killings committed in the context of the “war on drugs” and called in key witnesses to testify before the Senate in September 2016. Shortly after, allies of President Duterte brought 10 people, 7 of them prison inmates, to testify before Congress that drug money was paid to de Lima’s driver to help fund her campaign to the Senate. It was later revealed that, following their testimony, prison inmates received benefits in jail.
Senator Leila de Lima has been imprisoned since February 24, 2017. Amnesty International believes that the charges against the Senator are politically motivated, and calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the Senator and drop all charges against her.
From her prison cell Senator de Lima has continued to issue daily handwritten dispatches, commenting and responding to current social and political issues in the Philippines, and continued to call for attention to human rights violations in the country.
While neither the use nor sale of drugs is confined to poor neighborhoods, police operations have overwhelmingly targeted those living in poverty, making the so-called ‘war on drugs’ a war on the poor. Drug-related killings have created a pervasive climate of fear in poor communities, with families of victims unable to seek justice, and many forced into hiding due to fear of further attacks.