On the retraction of self-confessed drug lord and former state witness Kerwin Espinosa of his allegations that Senator Leila de Lima was involved in the illegal drug trade, Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director, said:
“Espinosa’s retraction of his allegations against prisoner of conscience, Senator Leila de Lima, is veritable proof of what we and many other groups have been saying all along – Senator de Lima is a victim of political persecution, targeted and singled out by the Duterte administration for her legitimate work as a human rights defender and duly-elected legislator,
“Espinosa’s counter-affidavit, in which says he was pressured and threatened to invent stories against the Senator is deeply disturbing,
“In the last five years since Senator de Lima’s arrest, Amnesty International has repeatedly said that the charges against her were fabricated, and the supposed testimony by witnesses against her was manufactured. Her arrest and detention clearly stem from her criticism of President Duterte’s “war on drugs”, which has so far killed thousands of people with blatant impunity,
Following Espinosa’s retraction, the government must immediately and unconditionally release Senator Leila de Lima, and hold accountable those responsible for her unjust detention and the various human rights violations she has had to endureButch Olano, Section Director
“Senator de Lima’s arbitrary detention for five years has caused her and her family unimaginable suffering and trauma. She should have never been detained in the first place. Following this retraction, the government must immediately and unconditionally release her and hold accountable those responsible for her unjust detention and the various human rights violations she has had to endure.”
On 28 April, Kerwin Espinosa submitted to the Department of Justice a counter-affidavit recanting all his allegations against detained Senator Leila de Lima. Espinosa is a self-confessed drug lord who eventually became a state witness in the drug-related charges filed by the government against Senator de Lima.
In his counter-affidavit, Espinosa said he was “coerced, pressured, intimidated and seriously threatened by the police” to “invent stories” against Senator de Lima. He also stated that all his statements during the Senate hearings or as part of his written sworn affidavits are “not true”, and that he “[had] no dealings with Sen. de Lima and [had] not given her any money at any given time”. Espinosa also apologized to Senator de Lima in his affidavit.
Espinosa previously claimed that he gave a total of P8 million in drug payoffs to Senator de Lima when she was still Justice Secretary, through her former driver Ronnie Dayan. At a 2016 Senate hearing, Espinosa alleged that Dayan called him in 2015 to solicit money as campaign funds for Senator de Lima, in exchange for protection given his own involvement in the illegal drug trade.
Senator de Lima was one of the first politicians to be targeted by the authorities after President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in June 2016. The attacks against her began when, as the then Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, she sought to investigate extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations under the so-called “war on drugs”.