Leila De Lima was one of the most vocal and powerful local critics of Duterte after he took power in 2016
Leila De Lima was one of the most vocal and powerful local critics of Duterte after he took power in 2016 AFP / Noel CELIS


  • Leila de Lima was acquitted in one of her two remaining drug trafficking cases
  • De Lima said her freedom from more than six years in detention "draws nearer"
  • The former senator has not yet been released as the local court is still deciding her other case

Freedom is within reach for Philippine ex-senator Leila de Lima after she was acquitted in one of her two remaining drug trafficking charges.

De Lima, a fierce critic of Philippine former President Rodrigo Duterte's "war on drugs," secured another legal victory after Judge Joseph Abraham Alcantara of the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 found no reason to convict her over claims of alleged involvement in the illegal drug trading inside the country's national penitentiary.

Following the decision, an elated De Lima faced the media waiting outside the trial court and thanked all those who prayed for her acquittal.

"Glorious day, glorious day, [the] beginning of my vindication," De Lima said, Philippine online news outlet Interaksyon reported.

In another statement read by her lawyer, Filibon Tacardon, De Lima said she believed from the very start that she would be acquitted in all the cases filed against her during the Duterte administration.

"There are already two cases down, and one more to go," De Lima said. "My release from more than six years of persecution draws nearer."

In the charge De Lima was most recently acquitted of, she was accused of violating Section 5 of the Philippines' Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which involves the "sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs," Rappler reported.

Philippine prosecutors alleged that during her time as justice secretary, De Lima extorted money from high-profile prisoners inside the New Bilibid Prison to bankroll her 2016 senatorial candidacy.

However, the case against the human rights lawyer crumbled after two witnesses in the drug case, self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and former Philippine Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, retracted their allegations against De Lima.

De Lima was first acquitted in 2021 after she filed a demurrer at the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 205 to dismiss the case based on weak evidence.

Despite scoring two acquittals, De Lima will remain in detention as Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 has yet to decide on the former senator's petitions for bail and temporary freedom.

De Lima became a senator at the time Duterte ascended to the presidency. She immediately launched investigations into the former president's bloody campaign against illegal drugs known as "Oplan Tokhang."

She also probed the killings allegedly committed by the so-called Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group in Duterte's turf of Davao City that liquidates alleged drug personalities.

De Lima's legal troubles began in February 2017 after a Muntinlupa court issued an arrest warrant against her for allegedly violating the drug trafficking law. She spent the next six years writing letters and bills while detained at a custodial compound inside the Philippine National Police headquarters.

Despite spending most of her six-year term as a senator in detention, De Lima launched her re-election bid in 2022 but lost.

In October last year, De Lima survived an attempted hostage-taking after she was taken hostage by her fellow detainee accused of being a leader of a local terrorist group.

Philippine human rights campaigner Leila de Lima was acquitted on one of two remaining drug trafficking charges against her