Jailed Duterte critic held hostage in deadly escape attempt
Jailed Filipino human rights activist Leila de Lima was briefly held hostage by three jailed militants who were shot dead by police on Sunday in an escape attempt on Sunday, authorities said.
The incident took place at the National Police Headquarters, where de Lima, a former senator, has been held with other high-ranking inmates for more than five years.
A policeman delivering breakfast was stabbed with a fork by an inmate, who then freed two others from their cells.
Two of the prisoners were shot dead by a sniper, Interior Minister Benjamin Abalos told reporters.
The third prisoner ran to de Lima’s cell. Abalos said he tied up the 63-year-old and blindfolded him before a police officer shot him in the head.
Police said de Lima is safe and the situation at the detention center has “returned to normal.” An investigation was underway.
Police Chief General Rodolfo Azurin said the three inmates were members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.
De Lima was apparently not the target, Azurin told local radio station DZBB.
“They saw her as ideal cover. Their intention was really to flee,” he said.
De Lima was unharmed, Boni Tacardon, her attorney, confirmed to AFP.
“She was taken to the hospital for the usual medical check-up,” Tacardon said.
“But based on the information given to us by our staff who is now with the senator, she appears to be fine.”
– Calls to free de Lima –
De Lima, an outspoken critic of former President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly drug war, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.
She has been behind bars since 2017 on drug trafficking charges, which she and human rights groups have described as a mockery of justice and revenge for Duterte’s persecution.
Since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took power in June, diplomats and human rights defenders have continued to call for de Lima’s release.
The latest incident underscored the need for her “immediate release,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.
Marcos tweeted that he would speak to de Lima “to check on her condition and ask if she would like to be transferred to another detention center.”
But Tacardon said de Lima doesn’t want to be transferred.
For now, de Lima and her defense team are considering their options, including the hospital at the national police headquarters.
Prior to her arrest on February 24, 2017, de Lima had spent a decade investigating “death squad” killings allegedly orchestrated by Duterte during his time as mayor of Davao City and in the early days of his presidency.
She conducted the investigations while serving as the nation’s human rights commissioner, then from 2010 to 2015 as justice minister in the Benigno Aquino administration that preceded Duterte’s rule.
De Lima won a Senate seat in 2016 and became one of the few opposition votes while populist Duterte celebrated a landslide victory.
But Duterte then accused her of running a drug trafficking ring with criminals in the nation’s largest prison when she was attorney general.
De Lima lost her candidacy for re-election to the Senate in May and Duterte resigned in June.
The lawyer and mother-of-two was being held in a high-profile prison complex rather than one of the Philippines’ notoriously overcrowded prisons.