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Leila de Lima freed on bail after nearly 7 years in detention

"Sweet freedom" was how former senator Leila de Lima described her release after six years, eight months and two days in detention.

De Lima was released from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Monday night after completing the bail procedures and undergoing a physical check-up.

“Precious freedom! Free at last! Pinakahihintay ko sa buhay ko for more than six years. Ito na, dumating na po. Maraming salamat,” de Lima told media members as she walked to a vehicle at 7:03 p.m.

(What I have been waiting for the most in my life for more than six years is now here. Many thanks.)

She was surrounded by armed police escorts and a convoy was on standby.

Earlier in the day at 4:39 p.m., de Lima went outside the Custodial Center briefly to greet the media before she underwent the bail process.

"I'm free. Salamat, sa wakas, malaya na po ako [Thank you. Finally, I am free]....after 2,424 days. I am now free. Sweet, sweet freedom. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, everyone," she said waving to the crowd.

The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 on Monday granted her motion for reconsideration on her bail petition in her remaining drug case.

Based on the decision, de Lima and her co-accused—former Corrections Director Franklin Bucayu, Ronnie Dayan, Joenel Sanchez, and Jad Dera—were allowed to post bail in the amount of P300,000 each. 

De Lima left the Muntinlupa City Hall of Justice visibly overwhelmed.

“Sa wakas makakalaya na po ako. For years, years, my whole being has been crying out for justice and freedom. For six long years, praying, praying so hard for this day to come,” she said.

(Finally, I am free. For years, years, my whole being has been crying out for justice and freedom. For more than six long years, praying, praying so hard for this day to come.)

The decision was hailed as justice "finally secured" by her allies. 

"The a step toward justice and freedom for Leila and a harsh indictment of those who falsely accused her of wrongdoing and caused her years of unimaginable suffering in solitary confinement and the indescribable anguish of the malevolently accused," Albay lawmaker Edcel Lagman said in a statement.

Former vice president Leni Robredo said the court’s decision is proof that the truth will eventually come out and that de Lima was politically persecuted.

“Ang lahat ng mga paninira at panggigipit na naranasan niya sa loob ng halos pitong taon ay bunga ng kaniyang pangangahas na tumindig para sa tama—para sa ating mga kababayan. Masaya ako na sa wakas ay namayani ang hustisya at makakapiling na natin nang malaya si Senator Leila,” she added.

(All the malicious attacks and persecution that she endured for seven years are rooted in her courage to speak for what is just. I am happy that justice prevailed and we get to be with her again.)

Salvador Panelo, chief legal counsel of then president Rodrigo Duterte, said that if the grant of bail is based on the recantation of witnesses, the court may have been "oblivious" on jurisprudence on the effect of recantation of witnesses.

"The recanting witnesses have not proven before the court that their previous adverse testimonies on de Lima were done under the threat or that they were coerced into falsely testifying before the court," he said.

He added that even without the testimonies, "there is strong evidence establishing the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt."

"The government can appeal the erroneous grant of bail by the lower court to the higher courts," Panelo said.

De Lima has been detained in Camp Crame since February 2017 over allegations of drug trade, which she has repeatedly denied.

Her first acquittal came in February 2021 when the Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 205 junked one of her three cases.

On May 12, the Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 acquitted de Lima and Ronnie Dayan, her co-accused and former bodyguard, of an illegal drug trading charge on the grounds of reasonable doubt.

In October 2022, de Lima survived a hostage-taking inside the Custodial Center.

Three detainees—Arnel Cabintoy, Idang Susukan, and Feliciano Sulayao Jr.—tried to escape from the PNP facility and stabbed a police officer who was serving their food.

Cabintoy and Susukan were shot dead by another police officer while Sulayao was able to take de Lima hostage.

Headquarters Support Service Director Police Colonel Mark Pespes was able to neutralize Sulayao during a negotiation and rescued de Lima. —LDF/BM, GMA Integrated News