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Leading critic of Philippine leader arrested on drug charges

Opposition Senator Leila de Lima is escorted by Senate security to address the media after a warrant for her arrest was issued by a regional trial court Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The Philippine court has issued an arrest warrant on drug charges for the senator and former top human rights official who is one of the most vocal critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs. De Lima has vehemently denied the charges, which she says are part of Duterte's attempt to intimidate critics of his crackdown, which has left more than 7,000 drug suspects dead. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
February 24, 2017 - 5:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine senator and leading critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly crackdown on illegal drugs said she won't be intimidated by a leader she called a "serial killer" after police arrested her on drug charges.

Leila de Lima said the accusations against her were part of an attempt by Duterte to muzzle critics of the clampdown that has left more than 7,000 suspected dealers and small-time users dead. She questioned why the court suddenly issued the arrest order when it was scheduled Friday to hear her petition to throw out the charges of receiving bribes from detained drug lords.

"If they think they can silence me, if they think I will no longer fight for my advocacies, especially on the truth on the daily killings and other intimidations of this Duterte regime. It's my honour to be jailed for what I've been fighting for," she said before police took her into custody at the Senate.

A police convoy, trailed by media vans, took de Lima to the main police camp, where officers took her mugshot and fingerprints before they locked her up in a detention centre. Two former senators she helped prosecute for plunder when she was the justice secretary have been detained in the same centre for three years.

Vice-President Leni Robredo and other political allies expressed support to de Lima, saying she was being persecuted for criticizing the president. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of bishops in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, said the senators and others charged should be accorded "their fair day in the court of laws."

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said de Lima will be treated fairly and should not fear for her safety where she was detained.

When de Lima headed the government's Commission on Human Rights, she tried unsuccessfully to have Duterte prosecuted when he was mayor of Davao city for unlawful deaths in a crackdown against illegal drugs he had launched there. No witnesses came forward to testify against him.

Duterte expanded the crackdown nationwide after becoming president in June and de Lima continued to criticize him after winning a Senate seat last year.

In one of her strongest statements against the president this week, de Lima called Duterte a "sociopathic serial killer" who has not been made to answer for more than 1,000 deaths while he was Davao mayor and even more as president.

She urged Duterte's Cabinet members to declare him unfit.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II warned that such remarks were seditious, but de Lima replied that Aguirre and Duterte are "the rebels and inciters against a constitutional order that values life and due process above everything else."

Prosecutors allege that de Lima, while she was justice secretary received bribes from detained drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign, adding some of them would testify against her. The bribes were allegedly solicited by her former driver and lover, who was also charged and arrested Thursday.

Duterte has lashed out at de Lima with foul language, calling her a sex-crazed immoral woman whose election opened "the portals of the national government ... to narco-politics."

De Lima has said the case against her might be the "wakeup call" the country needs, referring to the absence of a public outcry over the drug killings.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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