20240624 leila de lima
Former Philippine senator and human rights campaigner Leila de Lima acknowledges supporters after all remaining criminal charges against her were dropped, outside a court in Muntinlupa. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: A Philippine court dropped all remaining criminal charges against human rights campaigner Leila de Lima on Monday, ending years of legal battles for one of the most vocal and powerful critics of former president Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war.

The former senator and justice minister had spent a decade investigating "death squad" killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte until she was arrested in 2017 and spent more than six years in prison.

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"I am now completely free and vindicated. It's very liberating," an emotional de Lima told reporters as she emerged from the southern Manila courtroom.

"Despite the pain and injustice of it all, I went through it and endured the whole process."

De Lima had been freed on bail in November last year, having earlier been cleared of the two other drugs charges.

Her lawyer Filibon Tacardon said the final case was dismissed for insufficient evidence.

The court did not immediately release the text of the ruling.

The 64-year-old de Lima vowed that Duterte will not go scot-free for the drug war killings as well as her imprisonment.

"This is my message to the former president, Mr Duterte: Now it's your turn to answer for your sins against the people."


De Lima was a sitting senator when she was arrested in 2017 and spent more than six years in jail while on trial for three drug trafficking charges.

She described the cases as payback for her efforts to investigate Duterte's drug war, first as head of the government's independent human rights body, then as justice minister and during her term as a senator.

The last drug case concerned allegations she took money from inmates inside the country's largest prison to allow them to sell drugs while she was justice minister from 2010-2015.

She had maintained that the charges, which carried a maximum penalty of life in prison, were fabricated to silence her from criticising Duterte's narcotics crackdown that left thousands dead.

Multiple witnesses, including prison gang bosses, died or recanted their testimonies during the lengthy trials.

Also on Monday, the court dismissed another charge alleging de Lima had persuaded a former employee to ignore a 2016 summons issued by the House of Representatives for a hearing on the alleged trade of illegal drugs in Philippine prisons.

That case, the only other criminal proceeding against her, had carried a penalty of anywhere between a fine and six months in prison.

Before her arrest, de Lima spent a decade investigating Duterte's drug war during his time as mayor of the southern city of Davao and early in his 2016-2022 presidency.

Thousands of drug suspects were killed by police and unknown gunmen in a campaign that became the centrepiece of Duterte's 2016-2022 rule, a crackdown that critics described as state-sponsored extrajudicial killings and is now a subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

De Lima said Monday she will continue to help the tribunal in its probe.