US lawmakers barred from visiting De Lima due to lack of clearance – PNP

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(File photo of former Senator Leila de Lima from 2019)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 18) — United States lawmakers who planned to visit detained former senator Leila de Lima were barred from doing so since they lacked permission from judicial authorities, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Thursday.

PNP public information office chief PBGen. Augustus Alba confirmed that the US lawmakers led by Senator Edward Markey were not allowed to talk to De Lima, who is detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame.

“Such interaction with any specific PUPC (person under police custody) is subject to express permission of the concerned judicial authorities, with due consideration of the prevailing COVID-19 situation in Camp Crame that currently has 15 active cases and one new case as of today,” the PNP said in a statement.

Before the foreign delegation’s arrival in Camp Crame, the PNP said it would “extend utmost courtesy and assistance” to them as they check on the conditions in the custodial facility. The police added it was prepared to present a briefing to the lawmakers.

“However, such accommodation excludes direct interaction with any person under police custody confined in the detention facility, particularly PUPC committed by the court to PNP custody,” the PNP statement said.

Several US senators, including Markey, called on the Philippine government earlier this year to immediately release and drop the remaining drug charges against De Lima after some witnesses recanted their testimonies against her. 

De Lima has been in jail since 2017 for allegedly abetting an illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary during her term as Justice Secretary in ex-President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's administration. The former senator, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration's anti-drug war, has maintained her innocence and accused the Duterte government of fabricating the cases against her.

Since late-April, four witnesses have recanted their allegations against De Lima. The first three claimed they were coerced by government officials to implicate her, while one said he felt compelled to lie for fear of his life.

Responding to growing calls for De Lima's release, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla earlier said it is still up to the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court to decide if the pending cases against her should be dropped.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the bribery complaints lodged against De Lima and her former aide Ronnie Dayan for lack of probable cause.