Leila de Lima and her personal quest for justice

Leila de Lima and her personal quest for justice
Leila de Lima —PHOTO BY RA ERIN

The lawyer Leila de Lima is counting her blessings and savoring her recent legal victory that cleared her of her third drug case. But she’s not losing sight of her personal quest for justice against her persecutors. 

She will sue those who publicly maligned her and haled her to court on fabricated drug trafficking charges that led to her arrest in 2017 when she was a senator and her detention of more than six years while on trial. 

“My legal team is still studying what specific cases and against whom will be filed,” De Lima told CoverStory.ph in a Viber message on Thursday. 

But in general, the criminal and civil cases “will be anchored on false or malicious prosecution, the fabrication of cases/evidence and the demonization or maligning of my honor and character,” she said, adding that, for sure, former president Rodrigo Duterte, who ruled from 2016 to 2022, is on top of the list.

Forgiving and forgetting 

Leila de Lima
De Lima (right) is interviewed online by Christian Esquerra. —PHOTO BY TJ BURGONIO

De Lima spoke at length about the issue in an interview with Christian Esguerra on his “Facts First” podcast on Wednesday night. “It’s a matter of justice. We can’t just let this pass. I’ll be completely vindicated only if the perpetrators are held accountable,” she said. 

“Except for Duterte, I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten,” she said when Esguerra rattled off the names of former justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III, former presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and social media influencer Mocha Uson, among other “persecutors.”    

“But when it comes to Mr. Duterte, my chief oppressor, I can’t bring myself to forgive him. I’m still praying for the grace to be able to do that,” she said.

Duterte’s hand was largely visible in the efforts to persecute De Lima, who had investigated his “war on drugs” as Davao City mayor and as president when she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, justice secretary, and senator.

De Lima, 64, was finally vindicated when Muntinlupa City Judge Gener Gito granted her demurrer to evidence in her third and last case last June 24. (A demurrer is a motion to dismiss a case filed by an accused on the grounds that the evidence presented by prosecutors is insufficient for a criminal conviction. It amounts to acquittal once granted by the court.)

The last case concerned allegations that De Lima, the former chief of the Bureau of Corrections, and others conspired to engage in illegal drug trading in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa.

Also dismissed on the same day by a Quezon City court were two cases alleging that she had ordered her former aide to ignore a congressional committee’s subpoena to its inquiry into the drug business in the NBP. 

She was released on bail last November after being cleared in two drug charges—including one where she was accused of receiving at least P5 million from the alleged drug trade in the penitentiary—following the recantation of key witnesses.

‘On merits’

De Lima acknowledged that the Marcos administration’s non-interference had given her confidence that the judge would resolve her case “strictly based on merits.”

“I have to thank the Marcos administration because of their respect for the independence of the judiciary, which we did not see happening during the time of Mr. Duterte,” she told Esguerra.

De Lima said there had been “feelers” for a house or hospital arrest during her detention, which she rejected lest her name be added to the “category of privileged prisoners.”   

“I’ll end up having a debt of gratitude because it will be a case of political accommodation,” she said of her situation then. “Besides, I won’t be vindicated because I’m still under arrest.” 

De Lima said she’s not joining the “tight race” for the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. But then she pointed out: “it’s something that I can”t completely rule out depending on the developments between now and the filing of certificates of candidacy” in October. Still, she said, she has “no plans” for now. 

As things stand, De Lima has a lot on her plate. She’s now the spokesperson of the much-depleted Liberal Party, a job that entails going on campus tours along with party stalwarts and explaining pressing issues to students. This coming semester, she’s resuming her job at De La Salle University’s Tañada-Diokno School of Law, where she co-teaches a course with Dean Chel Diokno. 


Of the reported plan by Duterte and his sons—Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte and Rep. Paolo Duterte—to seek seats in the Senate in 2025, De Lima had a mouthful to say. After some initial skepticism—is it a gimmick, a bluff, a diversionary tactic?—she pronounced the idea of the three Dutertes possibly joining, if not exceeding, the tandems of dynasts in the chamber “insulting to the political system.”

“Now there’s three: a father and two sons. They’re disrespecting our political system, more so our Constitution, which bans political dynasties,” she said.  

“It’s getting worse because there’s no enabling law,’’ De Lima said, blaming Congress for failing to pass a law enacting the 1987 Constitution’s provision banning political dynasties. “But the spirit is there. Can’t they at least respect the spirit of the law?”

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