Philippine Court Acquits Former Justice Minister of Drug Charges After Key Witnesses Said They Lied

MANILA (AP) - A former Philippine senator and justice ministry was acquitted Friday of drug charges after key witnesses recanted, saying they had lied to her about their involvement in narcotics.

Leila De Lima, aged 63, was still in jail, but only because she had one unresolved charge.

De Lima is being held since 2017 for drug charges that she claims were made up by the former president Rodrigo Duterte, his officials and others to silence her criticisms of his brutal crackdown on illegal substances. His campaign resulted in the deaths of thousands, mostly minor suspects. It sparked a criminal investigation by the International Criminal Court as possible crimes against humanity.

Duterte left office in June last year, after a turbulent six-year tenure.

In his ruling, trial court judge Abraham Alcantara stated that the recantation of a former senior official in the police force was a factor in his decision to acquit de Lima.

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He wrote that without his testimony the link crucial to establishing conspiracy was shrouded in reasonable doubt. This warranted the acquittal.

Rafael Ragos - a former director of the Bureau of Corrections - retracted his claim that he delivered money to de Lima from drug lords and claimed he was forced to do so by government officials.

De Lima told her lawyer that she was anticipating her full acquittal of all charges. Since her arrest, she has been in pretrial custody without being convicted.

I have been confident from the beginning that based on my merits and the strength of my innocent, I will be cleared from all the charges the Duterte government has brought against me. She said that she had already won two cases and was still awaiting a third in a written statement by her lawyer Boni F.Tacardon.

I am happy to see that my release after more than six years of persecution is getting closer. "I am very grateful to all those who prayed and stood by me for so many years." she said.