Philippines: Incommunicado detention of Senator Leila de Lima

Senator Leila De Lima
Senator Leila De Lima

Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines,
Dear Mr. Teodoro Locsin Jr,
I am William Nicholas Gomes, a British human rights activist, and freelance journalist.
I have been informed by Observatory about the incommunicado detention of Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, a human rights lawyer and an elected member of the Philippine Senate.

According to the information received, Senator de Lima has been denied visitors since April 25, 2020, as part of preventive measures against the COVID-19. She was also prevented from communicating with the outside world between May 5, 2020, and May 27, 2020.

On April 25, 2020, Senator de Lima’s staff was denied the right to visit her at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center at Manila’s Camp Crame, where she is detained. They were then informed that the Director of the Headquarter Support Services (HSS) had issued a Memorandum on April 16, 2020, suspending the visitation rights of detained persons (except for their personal doctors) at the PNP Custodial Center, as “part of the preventive measures against the COVID-19 and ensure the safety and protection of PUPCs [Persons under police custody] and CSU [Custodial Service Unit] personnel from contagion”. Several requests have been made by Senator de Lima’s staff and by the Senator herself to the Custodial Center administration in order to exempt her from these measures, given her status as a working legislator and the conditions at the PNP Custodial Center, which is not congested and where social distancing measures can be implemented. However, all requests have been rejected.

In addition, between April 25, 2020, and May 5, 2020, Senator de Lima was allowed to make only four phone calls. On May 18, 2020, after 14 days of being unable to reach out to her staff or family, Senator Leila de Lima wrote to the commanding officer of the PNP Custodial Center asking to be allowed to make at least two phone calls a week with her executive assistant. Once again, this request was denied until the resumption of phone call communications on May 28, 2020.

I recall that Senator Leila de Lima has been held in pre-trial detention at the PNP Custodial Center at Manila’s Camp Crame since her arrest on February 24, 2017, in a fabricated case alleging her involvement in a drug trafficking ring inside the New Bilibid Prison in Metro Manila’s Muntinlupa City, while she was Department of Justice Secretary. If convicted, Ms. de Lima could face between 12 years and life in prison. I further recall that Senator de Lima has been a staunch critic of President Duterte’s approach to combating crimes and drug trafficking, which made her a target for the President, who threatened to “destroy her in public” prior to her imprisonment.

I express my utmost concern over the incommunicado detention of Senator Leila de Lima and the restrictions on her right to visits and communications, which seems to be aimed at preventing her from exercising her duties as a Senator and her legitimate human rights activities.
I urge the Philippines authorities to lift all restrictions imposed on her immediately and to release her immediately and unconditionally.

Actions requested:

i. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Senator Leila de Lima, as well as of all human rights defenders in the Philippines;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Senator Leila de Lima, as well as all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the Philippines, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing her for her human rights activities;

iii. Lift all restrictions imposed on Senator Leila de Lima and guarantee her unhindered access to her lawyers and family members;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against Senator Leila de Lima, as well as all other human rights defenders in the Philippines, and ensure in all circumstances that she is able to carry out her legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

v. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular with Articles 1 and 12.2;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by the Philippines.
Yours sincerely,
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Activist and Freelance Journalist
York, United Kingdom

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