MANILA, Philippines – A senator who has been a leading critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly anti-drug crackdown was arrested Friday on drug charges but professed her innocence and vowed she would not be intimidated by a leader she called a "serial killer."
Sen. Leila de Lima was arrested a day after the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa city in the Manila metropolis issued the warrant for her and other officials who have been charged by state prosecutors for allegedly receiving bribes from detained drug lords.
De Lima said the charges against her were part of an attempt by Duterte to muzzle critics of the crackdown that has left more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and small-time users dead. She questioned why the court suddenly issued the arrest order when it was scheduled Friday to hear her petition to void the three non-bailable charges.
"If they think they can silence me, if they think I will no longer fight for my advocacies, specially on the truth on the daily killings and other intimidations of this Duterte regime, it's my honor to be jailed for what I've been fighting for," she said before police took her into custody at the Senate.
A police convoy, trailed by media vans, took de Lima to the main police camp, where officers took her photograph and fingerprints before they locked her up in a detention center. Two former senators she helped prosecute for plunder when she was the Philippines' justice secretary have been detained in the same center for three years.
Vice President Leni Robredo and other political allies expressed support to de Lima, saying she was being persecuted for criticizing the president. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of bishops in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, said the senators and those other charged should be accorded "their fair day in the court of laws."
"Our history as a nation is marred by instances where government officials use the processes of criminal justice to cow, silence, and eliminate critics," Robredo said in a statement. "We cannot, and we must not, stand by and let this happen again."
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said de Lima will be treated fairly and should not fear for her safety where she was detained.
When de Lima headed the government's Commission on Human Rights, she tried unsuccessfully to have Duterte prosecuted when he was mayor of Davao city for allegedly unlawful deaths in his anti-drug crackdown in the city. No witnesses came forward then to testify against the mayor.
Duterte expanded the crackdown nationwide after becoming president in June and de Lima continued to criticize him after winning a Senate seat last year.
In one of her strongest statements against the president this week, de Lima called Duterte a "sociopathic serial killer" who has not been made to answer for more than 1,000 deaths during his crackdown in Davao city as its mayor and now for the thousands of deaths in his national fight against illegal drugs.
She urged Duterte's Cabinet members to declare him unfit to serve as president.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II warned that such remarks were seditious, but de Lima replied that Aguirre and Duterte are "the rebels and inciters against a constitutional order that values life and due process above everything else."
Prosecutors allege that de Lima, while she was justice secretary received bribes from detained drug lords to finance her senatorial campaign, adding some of the drug lords would testify against her. The bribes were allegedly solicited by her former driver and lover, who was also charged and arrested Thursday.
Duterte has lashed out at de Lima with foul language, calling her a sex-crazed immoral woman whose election opened "the portals of the national government ... to narco politics."
De Lima has said the case against her might be the "wakeup call" the country needs, referring to the absence of a public outcry in the country over the killings in the anti-drug campaign.
De Lima said people were starting to fight back, citing recent accounts by a former militiaman and a retired police officer who acknowledged their roles as assassins in the Davao deaths and Duterte's alleged involvement in the killings.