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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Senator Leila de Lima

Senator Leila de Lima

Detained Since: February 24, 2017

Charges: Conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading and sedition.

Sentence: None to date.

Biography: Senator Leila de Lima of the Philippines was a practicing lawyer before being appointed as the head of the National Human Rights Commission of the Philippines in 2008. While in this role, she opened an inquiry into now-President Duterte’s involvement in extrajudicial executions during his time as Mayor of Davao City. In the 2016 general elections, de Lima won a seat in the 24-member Senate. 

Shortly after President Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, Senator de Lima voiced her concern regarding the increasing number of killings of suspected drug offenders. Following this, the President and other state officials began a campaign of harassment, often gender-based, and intimidation against her, mainly through public statements and a probe by the Lower House on drug trafficking inside the New Bilibid Prison.

Undeterred, as Chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Senator de Lima opened a Senate Inquiry into the unlawful killings committed in the context of the “war on drugs” and called in key witnesses, as well as self-confessed members of the Davao Death Squads, to testify before the Senate in September 2016. Shortly after, allies of President Duterte brought ten people, seven of them prison inmates, to testify before Congress that drug money was paid to de Lima’s driver to help fund her senate campaign. It was later revealed that, following their testimony, prison inmates received benefits in jail.

On February 24, 2017, Senator de Lima surrendered to the authorities at the Senate, a day after the police tried to serve the arrest warrant against her at her house. Initially facing three charges under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 for the non-bailable offense of trafficking drugs, her charges were recently changed to ‘conspiracy’ to trade drugs. If found guilty, she faces a maximum of life imprisonment. Senator de Lima has consistently denied the charges and has dismissed the allegations as an attempt by the President and his political allies to silence and discredit her.

On July 18, 2019 the Philippine National Police filed sedition charges against 36 high profile figures, which included the Vice President, Senator Leila de Lima, prominent Catholic bishops, lawyers, and other public figures. The charges accuse the respondents of “spreading lies against the President, his family, and close associates, making them appear as illegal drug trade protectors.” The sedition charges followed the United Nations Human Rights Council July 11, 2019 vote to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial killings committed in the name of Philippine government’s brutal anti-drugs campaign. These sedition charges have been seen by many as a way for President Duterte to silence all his critics.

Advocacy Partner: Amnesty International USA

Past Advocate: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA, Ret.)

Former Senator Leila de Lima has been CONDITIONALLY RELEASED on bail.


  • The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hosted a briefing titled Parliamentarians at Risk Around the World with a presentation by Vicente de Lima, brother of imprisoned Senator Leila de Lima (September 19, 2019, TLHRC). 
  • The US Senate voted to pass a resolution condemning the Government of the Philippines for its continued detention of Senator Leila De Lima calling for her immediate release (January 8, 2020, US Senate).
  • A court in Muntinlupa acquitted Senator Leila de Lima in one of her 3 conspiracy to commit drug trading charges. She remains detained on the remaining two charges (February 17, 2021, Rappler). 
  • In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for the release of leading human rights advocate Sen. Leila de Lima who has now spent four years languishing in prison (March 22, 2021). 
  • In a letter led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), 10 Senators wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to press the Philippine government to end the unjust detention of Senator De Lima.
  • Senator de Lima ran her reelection campaign from prison, however she lost the election on May 9, 2022. Her term will end on June 30, 2022 (May 10, 2022, Rappler).
  • Three witnesses have recanted their testimony against the Senator, leading to increased calls for her release (May 16, 2022, CNN Philippines).
  • A court dismissed a 2020 petition from government prosecutors to hold Senator de Lima and her lawyer in contempt for "attempting to influence the outcome of the case" (May 27, 2022)
  • On June 14, 2022, during a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) voiced his continued support for multiple Defending Freedoms Project prisoners of concience, including Raif Badawi, Senator Leila de Lima, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Ahmed Mansoor (June 14, 2022). 
  • On July 14, 2022 Philippine Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel and Senator Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 27, urging the Department of Justice to drop charges against Former Senator de Lima and release her from prison (July 26, 2022, CNN Philippines).
  • On August 9, 2022 the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed bribery complaints filed in 2018 against de Lima and Ronnie Dayan. The complaints were dismissed due to conflicting witness testimony, including that of Kerwin Espinosa, and was determined to have no probable cause (August 9, 2022, Rappler).
  • August 27, 2022 marked de Lima’s 63rd birthday, the 6th spent in prison. During the days surrounding her 63rd birthday multiple guests were barred from visiting the former senator (August 28, 2022, CNN Philippines). A U.S. delegation led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) with Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), and Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS) was initially barred from visiting Former Senator de Lima, before receiving court clearance to visit her in prison (August 20, 2022, ABS-CBN).
  • On August 30, 2022 Supreme Court Administrator Raul Villanueva stated during a budget hearing in the House of Representatives of the Philippines that Former Senator de Lima’s remaining cases could be submitted for decision before the end of the year (September 1, 2022, CNN Philippines).
  • On December 1, 2022, US Embassy officials and the Senior Advisor on National Security and Foreign Policy to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) visited de Lima to "check on [her] living conditions" (December 1, 2022, ABS-CBN).
  • On May 12, 2023, a Mutinlupa court aquitted de Lima of one of her two remaining cases. She remains in prison on the remaining drug-related charge and continues to await a decision on her request for bail (May 12, 2023, Amnesty International).
  • Despite the aquittal of one of the two remaining cases against her, de Lima's application for release on bail was denied once again on June 7, 2023 (June 7, 2023, Amnesty International).
  • On November 13, 2023, Leila de Lima was released on bail (November 13, 2023, New York Times).
  • Following her release, in a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) welcomed Leila de Lima's release and called for authorities to drop the remaining charge against her (November, 14, 2023, Twitter [@SenatorDurbin]). Senator Durbin and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) also expressed a similar message in a joint statement published on the day of her release (November 13, 2023, Office of Senator Ed Markey).