‘Justice rendered, freedom near’: Ex-VP Robredo, lawmakers celebrate De Lima's acquittal in second drug case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Partymates and supporters on Friday welcomed the acquittal of former Sen. Leila de Lima in one of her two remaining drug cases, stressing that her freedom is near and the fight for justice continues as she has been detained for six years already.

"Tagumpay ito ng katotohanan pagkatapos ng mahigit na anim na taon ng paninira at kasinungalingan laban kay Sen Leila, na ang tanging kasalanan lang ay ang matapang na pagtindig para sa tama," former Vice President Leni Robredo said in an Instagram story.

[Translation: This is truth's victory after the more than six years of slander and lies against Sen Leila, whose only sin is having the courage to stand up for what is right.]

Robredo, the former chairperson of the Liberal Party (LP), said she completely trusted De Lima's innocence since the start and has been hoping she would reclaim her freedom and good name amid six years of oppression.

TIMELINE: De Lima's six-year struggle in prison

"Ang pagbasura sa kasong ito, bunga ng kawalan ng kahit anumang ebidensiya laban sa kanya, ay malinaw na hakbang tungo sa araw na ito," she added.

[Translation: The dismissal of this case, due to lack of evidence against her, is a clear step towards this day.]

The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 gave weight to the recantation of ex-Bureau of Corrections chief Rafael Ragos, formerly the prosecution's key witness, to acquit De Lima in the drug case.

Current LP president and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman called for De Lima's freedom through bail in her last "contrived" drug case still pending trial.

"Justice is rendered, albeit late," Lagman said. "She deserves full exoneration and final liberation."

De Lima's camp is still waiting for the resolution on their petition for bail on her last drug-related case before she could be released.

The decision was supposed to be issued on May 8 but it was put on hold due to problems during the prosecution's marking of evidence.

"Ang ebidensya lahat [All of the evidence are] fabricated," incumbent LP chairperson and former Sen. Kiko Pangilinan said as he welcomed the court's verdict. He said this was "better late than never."

"The fight for justice, for the truth continues. Free Leila!" he also said.

On Twitter, #FreeLeilaDeLimaNow trended in the country after the verdict was handed down.

"Freedom is near, Sen. Leila. Redemption and vindication are next," said former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who ran with De Lima under the LP for their reelection bid in 2022.

"We need her in the front lines in the fight against the forces of tyranny and disinformation who are again trying to trample on the Filipino people's rights," House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Rep. France Castro said as she called for De Lima's release from detention.

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the upper chamber's deputy minority leader, justice will be completed when the "sinister plot to put her in jail…is fully exposed in daylight."

De Lima was one of the most vocal critics of former President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs which claimed thousands of lives.

"May this pave the road to justice for all victims of the War on Drugs and sound the death knell for this inhuman policy," Hontiveros said.

RELATED: Marcos admits 'abuses' linked to Duterte's drug war

Beyond the May 12 acquittal

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla said the acquittal showed that the "rule of law prevailed," and that the "independence of the judiciary stands as a major foundation of our democratic way of life."

But for human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, who was present in the courtroom on Friday morning, the case revealed that there is a need to reexamine the independence of the country's judiciary as a whole.

"Because, you know, these cases did not begin the way a criminal case should begin, which is with a criminal investigation," Diokno told CNN Philippines. "This case began with the pronouncements of our former president which then led to an investigation."

Diokno said there's a need to strengthen the country's justice system to make it truly independent. Former Senate President Franklin Drilon had the same concern, adding this will be a challenge for the Supreme Court to not let something like this happen again.

"Maraming kaso ang maisasampa doon sa may ebidensyang gumawa nitong kaso na talagang di naman nangyari ang mga sinasabing pananagutan ni Sen. Leila," Drilon told CNN Philippines' Balitaan. "Merong pananagutan sa batas ito, pananagutan ang mga dating opisiyal ng Duterte administration."

[Translation: Many cases can be filed against those who created trumped-up charges against Sen. Leila that could not be backed with evidence. Under our laws, there are people who would be held to account, those former officials in the Duterte administration.]

Former Sen. Richard Gordon raised that De Lima's six years of imprisonment would "already constitute a violation of her right to a speedy disposition of her case," as provided in the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution.

RELATED: Rights group: Quickly resolve last De Lima drug case, bail appeal