Updated 13:31 PM PHT Thu, March 2, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Two international organizations called for the immediate release of Senator Leila De Lima, amid the Philippine government's denial of any political vendetta against her.
"The ICJ calls on the Philippine government to immediately release Senator De Lima and immediately stop any further acts of harassment against her and other public critics of the government," the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a statement on Tuesday.
It believes drug charges against De Lima were "fabricated," and that her prosecution is politically motivated and tantamount to judicial persecution.
They were meant to silence De Lima, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, said ICJ's Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Sam Zarifi.
"If the government really wants to defeat the illegal drug trade, there should be more prosecutions before domestic courts. We do not see this, however. We only see active persecution of those who are critical of the President's 'war on drugs," Zafiri said.
Malacañang on Wednesday once again denied allegations of political persecution against De Lima.
"To even insinuate that De Lima's arrest is political in nature contradicts established facts and mocks the country's commitment to due process and the rule of law," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
De Lima's arrest was ordered by a lower court after finding "sufficient probable cause for the issuance of the Warrants of Arrest," Abella added.
Innocent until proven guilty
Another international advocacy group, Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), also expressed concern over De Lima's arrest.
"We are hopeful that the presumption of innocence will be upheld and that Senator de Lima will soon be released from pre-trial detention," the GCDP said in a statement upon hearing about De Lima's arrest on February 24.
De Lima is detained at the Philippine National Police custodial center. She is accused of abetting the illegal drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison while she was Justice Secretary from 2010 to 2015.
The ICJ reminded government officials that those accused are innocent until proven guilty by the courts.
But public officials, including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, stripped De Lima of her right to presumption of innocence as they alluded to her guilt in public statements, the ICJ said.
It was Aguirre himself who presented inmates to testify against De Lima before the House probe on the Bilibid drug trade.
"Isisiwalat nila pagdating sa hearing sa House 'yung pangungulekta dun ng pera para suportahan at ibigay kay De Lima sa kanyang pagtakbo sa pagka-Senador," Aguirre told reporters in September, when he announced that drug lords and high-profile inmates would pin De Lima down.
[Translation: They will divulge how money was collected to bankroll De Lima's senatorial run.]
The Geneva-based ICJ is made up of judges and lawyers from around the world advocating the protection of human rights through adherence to the rule of law.
House speaker: Global groups reacting to "wrong facts"
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a Duterte ally and one of the leaders in the House probe on the illegal drug trade, said the legislative inquiries proved De Lima's connection to the drug trade.
"Alam po ng sambayanan na merong nangyaring krimen… Nagrereact yung international community on the basis of wrong facts (The country knows a crime was committed. The international community is reacting based on wrong facts)," Alvarez told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday.
De Lima is charged for her alleged involvement in the "sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation" of illegal drugs under Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
If found guilty, De Lima may be imprisoned from 12 years to a lifetime, on top of perpetual disqualification from public office under Section 28 of the act.
She is also facing drug trafficking, qualified bribery, and graft charges.