MANILA, Philippines – Former senator Leila de Lima was kept in detention for more than six years since her arrest in February 2017. She was allowed to post bail on Monday, November 13, 2023.
De Lima was placed under trial for cases related to illegal drugs – accusations she had consistently denied and tagged as retaliation for standing up to former president Rodrigo Duterte.
As chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in 2009, she initiated an investigation into the high number of killings allegedly carried out by the Davao Death Squad. Duterte, then-mayor of Davao City, took part in a public inquiry spearheaded by De Lima herself.
She would later become one of fiercest critics of Duterte, publicly condemning his violent war on drugs and other human rights violations. During her stint at the Senate, the then-senator conducted hearings on the widespread killings.
In exchange, De Lima faced drug-related charges and became the subject of demeaning and misogynistic congressional hearings. She was arrested on February 24, 2017. (TIMELINE: De Lima – from drug probe to arrest)
Here’s a timeline of developments related to the cases filed against De Lima, in the immediate aftermath of her arrest in February 2017. We will update this storypage as newer information comes in. This Timeline was first published on May 9, 2023. We are republishing it with more current information.
FEBRUARY 27, 2017
De Lima files a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Supreme Court, calling for the immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order against the proceedings and arrest related to the charges filed against her.
MARCH 3, 2017
The Department of Justice (DOJ) moves to consolidate the three drug charges against De Lima. In its motion filed before the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court, the prosecutors argue that the “cases arose from similar sets of facts, there are common parties and issues, and interrelated evidence will be presented in court.”
MARCH 13, 2017
Then-solicitor general Jose Calida files a manifestation before the Supreme Court seeking the dismissal of De Lima’s petition, arguing that the then-senator falsified the notarizations on her affidavits.
De Lima’s camp says this issue was “legal nitpicking and hairsplitting.”
MARCH 14, 2017
The Supreme Court begins to hear the oral arguments related to De Lima’s petition. The second part is scheduled on March 24, 2017.
OCTOBER 10, 2017
The Supreme Court en banc junks De Lima’s petition that sought to nullify the arrest warrant against her. In its ruling, the High Court gives the Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court the go-signal to hear the drug cases, saying that it has jurisdiction.
NOVEMBER 16, 2017
The Department of Justice drops charges filed against former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos in one of the cases in which he stands as co-accused of De Lima, turning him into a witness in the case being heard by Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204.
APRIL 17, 2018
The Supreme Court rejects De Lima’s appeal against its earlier ruling and effectively affirms the drug charges filed against her by the Department of Justice.
AUGUST 10, 2018
De Lima is arraigned before Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 at least 18 months after her arrest. She refuses to enter a plea, saying that the charge “is pure invention, pure fabrication.”
Judge Amelia Fabros Corpuz enters a no guilty plea on her behalf, following procedure.
SEPTEMBER 7, 2018
The National Bureau of Investigation issues a subpoena for De Lima in relation to an investigation connected to an “extrajudicial confession” by alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.
De Lima says the subpoena signals that she is again “being falsely accused and being made to face trumped-up charges because [the Duterte] administration needs to cover up the rampant incompetence, abuse, and corruption that have been the only true defining hallmarks of [this] administration.”
SEPTEMBER 27, 2018
De Lima says Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 206 junked her move to disqualify criminal offenders as witnesses.
De Lima asks the Court of Appeals to reverse an earlier ruling that denied her plea to stop 13 convict-witnesses to testify against her in relation to illegal drug trading charges.
In her motion, De Lima says criminal convictions should be basis for disqualification of a witness.
AUGUST 9, 2019
De Lima files a very urgent motion for furlough so that she could be allowed to visit her ailing mother who was hospitalized in Iriga City, Camarines Sur. In her motion, she asks the court to grant her motion “as soon as possible so that she could see her mother, possibly for the last time.”
The court grants De Lima a two-day furlough on August 14, 2019.
AUGUST 16, 2019
Jose Adrian Dera, a co-accused of De Lima in two drug charges, is arrested in Angeles, Pampanga. He faces two counts of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trade.
The Department of Justice identifies him as De Lima’s nephew, an allegation that Dera denies.
JUNE 15, 2020
De Lima files for bail for one of the three drug charges filed against her. Her counsel Boni Tacardon says the then-senator applied for bail, despite the offense being non-bailable, “because the evidence [against her] is insufficient.
AUGUST 13, 2020
De Lima files for bail for another drug-related case where she is accused of extorting money from New Bilibid Prison inmates when she was justice secretary.
In her motion for provisional release from detention, the then-senator says “record will show the clear absence of any sufficient admissible evidence, much less strong evidence, that will support her alleged guilt.”
SEPTEMBER 25, 2020
The camp of De Lima says a financial investigator from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, a witness for the prosecutor, has told the court that the then-senator was not involved in any suspicious transactions in relation to illegal drugs.
De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon, in a statement, says that AMLC financial investigator Artemio Baculi Jr. “admitted that his investigation of people suspected to have been involved in the Bilibid drug trade showed that no money flowed from the bank accounts subject of his investigation, to either De Lima or her co-accused Jose Adrian Dera.”
DECEMBER 4, 2020
The Department of Justice formally moves to cite in contempt De Lima’s lawyers over their statements made to the media. The agency earlier indicates its plans to do so on November 11, 2020.
In a statement, De Lima says the only reason for this move by the government is to bar her camp from sharing trial developments with the public. She adds that it “is to deny transparency to the conduct of the trial… [and to] hide from the world the fabrication and manufacturing of evidence and testimony used to convict the innocent.”
DECEMBER 5, 2020
The Department of Justice prosecution finishes presenting evidence in relation to two drug charges against De Lima.
DECEMBER 29, 2020
Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 grants De Lima’s motion for leave to file a demurrer to evidence, effectively allowing the then-senator to seek outright dismissal of two drug cases against her.
JANUARY 7, 2021
De Lima seeks the dismissal of Criminal Case 17-166, one of the three drug cases against her. In her motion for demurrer to evidence filed before Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205, De Lima argues that there is a “clear absence of evidence… there is even no evidence of an overt act, much less proof beyond reasonable doubt.”
De Lima also says the conduct of the prosecution “obscured rather than shed light on the truth about illegal activities in the New Bilibid Prison, and it had obstructed rather than promoted the service of justice by failing to put on trial those against whom the Prosecution have actual evidence of wrongdoing.”
FEBRUARY 17, 2021
Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 acquits De Lima in one of the three drug trading charges filed against her. The court grants the then-senator’s demurrer to evidence in relation to Case Number 17-166.
In its decision, the court says the prosecution “did not present sufficient evidence to establish Dera’s relationship or connection with De Lima.”
“The prosecution fails to establish any conspiracy between De Lima and Dera as there was nothing to link the two together,” it says.
The court, however, denies the second demurrer.
MARCH 25, 2021
De Lima files a motion seeking the voluntary inhibition of Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 205 Judge Liezel Aquiatan. Pointing out the judge’s “blatant errors,” De Lima’s camp says the then-senator “deserves a presiding judge who will dispense justice in this case without fear and favor.”
Aquiatan is the judge who acquitted De Lima in one case, but allowed another case to proceed to trial.
APRIL 12, 2021
De Lima hits then-president Duterte for focusing so much on her amid the global pandemic that has killed Filipinos.
“Mr. President, maawa ka naman sa taumbayan. Namamatay na mga mahal nila sa buhay ako pa rin ang problema mo?” De Lima tweeted, responding to Duterte choosing to devote time to mock her in his late-night address.
(Mr. President, please have mercy on the people. Their loved ones are dying and yet I am still your problem?)
APRIL 23, 2021
The Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court allows De Lima a three-day emergency furlough to rule out a stroke through an immediate brain magnetic resonance imaging, or an MRI procedure. This comes after the then-senator’s on-call physician had an impression she suffered a mild stroke, following “complaints of bouts of headache and persistent generalized weakness.”
De Lima is discharged from the Manila Doctor’s Hospital on April 27, 2021 after tests show no evidence of a stroke.
AUGUST 27, 2021
De Lima says she has no regrets standing up against Duterte, despite her actions landing her in jail. In her message marking her 62nd birthday – her fifth in detention – De Lima says “what is there to regret when you are on the side of truth and justice?”
“And I wish to add to that line today: Karangalan kong maging tinig ng mga pinatatahimik, maging tambuli ng sambayanang gumigising, at maging taga-hawak ng sulo sa landas ng pag-asa at pagkakaisa para sa lahat,” she added.
(And I wish to add to that line today: I am honored to be a voice for the silenced, a horn to an awakening people, and a torchbearer leading to the path of hope and unity for all.)
OCTOBER 8, 2021
Through a representative, De Lima files her candidacy for senator, seeking to campaign for a second six-year term from jail. She earlier said she would “not let prison and persecution stand in the way of the fight against Duterte’s evil regime.”
NOVEMBER 5, 2021
De Lima urges Duterte’s successor to drop the charges against her, saying it is a “moral imperative as it is an issue of elemental justice.”
“Otherwise, he or she will be a party to the fabrication and injustice, as I hold everyone in the DOJ who has participated in my prosecution a party to this most dishonorable and corrupt enterprise of knowingly persecuting an innocent person,” De Lima writes in a series of letters.
FEBRUARY 3, 2022
De Lima is allowed to go on a video call with her ailing mother who contracted COVID-19.
APRIL 28, 2022
Detained alleged drug lord Kerwin Espinosa retracts his accusations against De Lima. In a sworn affidavit, he says that “any statement he made against the senator are false and was the result only of pressure, coercion, intimidation and serious threats to his life and family members from the police who instructed him to implicate the Senator into the alleged drug trade.”
Espinosa previously accused De Lima of receiving drug money through her security aide Ronnie Dayan.
APRIL 30, 2022
Former BuCor acting chief Rafael Ragos, a witness for the prosecution, retracts his accusations against De Lima. In a sworn affidavit, he says that “there is no truth whatsoever” to his claims regarding the delivery of money to De Lima and Dayan.
He says he was forced to invent the allegations “upon the instruction of [then-justice secretary] Vitaliano Aguirre II.”
Ragos previously said that he delivered money to De Lima’s house. He was initially charged with a drug-related case with De Lima, but was turned into a witness by the DOJ in 2017.
MAY 2, 2022
The Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court rejects the Department of Justice’s move to hold in contempt De Lima and her lawyer Boni Tacardon “for lack of merit.” The government prosecutors earlier wanted to hold the two in contempt for statements sent to media in relation to witnesses’ testimonies during the trial.
The court, however, says the media statements in question are “mere echoes of the testimonies of the witnesses.”
On the same day, then-justice secretary Menardo Guevarra says his agency will maintain a hands off position in the probe involving Ragos’ retraction, adding that they will refer the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman. Reacting to this statement, De Lima says Guevarra “needs more spine.”
The DOJ, however, stands by the charges against De Lima, saying that “the testimony of Ragos solemnly given in court is given more weight,” and that the testimonies of witnesses of the prosecution “are enough to pin and prove the charges.”
MAY 6, 2022
De Lima files for motion for outright dismissal and immediate release before Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204. Citing the retraction of Ragos, the camp of the then-senator says “it is now even less reasonable to ignore the plain and simple fact that there stands zero evidence… and much less any strong one.”
MAY 9, 2022
De Lima loses her reelection bid for a Senate seat. She ranks 23rd with 7.28 million votes.
MAY 13, 2022
De Lima’s security aide Ronnie Dayan recants his testimony against De Lima. He admits he was coerced to make the allegations, including having received a drug payout on behalf of De Lima.
Dayan’s lawyer Haidee Soriano tells the media that there were statements made “upon the dictate” of then-Oriental Mindoro congressman Reynaldo “Rey” Umali, who led the congressional hearings against De Lima in 2016. He died in 2021.
MAY 31, 2022
Then-incoming justice secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla says dropping charges against De Lima is possible “if it’s the only recourse,” but he says he “would let the [prosecutors] do their job.”
JUNE 14, 2022
Guevarra says the Department of Justice will not withdraw the charges against De Lima upon the advice of prosecutors “after a thorough review of evidence.”
AUGUST 9, 2022
The Office of the Ombudsman dismisses direct and indirect bribery complaints against De Lima and Dayan. It says that there was no probable cause to indict the two.
OCTOBER 9, 2022
De Lima survives a hostage-taking incident inside the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center led by Feliciano Sulayao Jr., a detainee accused of being an Abu Sayyaf subleader.
According to police, Sulayao attempted to escape the detention center with two other detainees. He headed towards De Lima’s cell after encountering police while trying to escape. De Lima says she did not think she would survive as the hostage-taker said he’s “certain he would also be killed and he might as well also kill me.”
The PNP later says the attempted escape and hostage-taking occurred due to the complacency of guards inside the center.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announces on the same day that he will “check on [De Lima’s] condition and to ask if she wishes to be transferred to another detention center.”
OCTOBER 14, 2022
Marcos says he trusts the process, following calls from De Lima and opposition lawmakers urging the president to release the detained former senator.
In a chance interview with reports, Marcos says he thinks “urging prosecutors to do one thing or another is interfering.”
OCTOBER 18, 2022
Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 24 affirms its decision to allow Ragos to testify and recant his allegations against De Lima.
FEBRUARY 10, 2023
De Lima’s counsel Boni Tacardon says the camp of the former senator will again seek her temporary release through bail.
FEBRUARY 20, 2023
Justice Secretary Remulla says the DOJ “will not object” if De Lima and her camp file a petition for habeas corpus. This writ involves the right to determine and challenge if someone is being lawfully or unlawfully detained.
According to Remulla, “it is their right after all as a citizen detained to ask the courts why she is detained, and for the courts to decide or not, if a grant of liberty is appropriate under the circumstances.”
FEBRUARY 24, 2023
De Lima files a supplemental omnibus motion asking Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 to grant her immediate release and/or grant petition for bail, citing “lack of evidence.”
APRIL 20, 2023
Remulla says the Department of Justice will oppose the bail petition of De Lima if her camp continues to push for it based on the merits of the case.
He tells reporters that the DOJ “wanted to have bail based on humanitarian grounds, not on the merits of the case.”
“So if they insist on making the merits of the cases the ground for bail, then I guess we will have to object to it,” Remulla says.
MAY 8, 2023
Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 256 has yet to release its issuance of resolution on De Lima’s petition for bail, following its decision to conduct a hearing after the prosecution filed a formal offer of evidence. De Lima’s camp expected the resolution to be released on May 8.
Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura, in his order dated May 5, says there’s a need to “appropriately rule on the offer of evidence.” He also notes “inconsistencies” in the markings on the evidence.
MAY 12, 2023
Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204 acquits De Lima in Criminal Case Number 17-165. In that case, she was accused of violating section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that penalizes the “sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution and transportation of illegal drugs.”
The former senator, however, remains in detention as she awaits resolution of her bail petition filed before Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256.
MAY 27, 2023
Prosecutors from the Department of Justice file a motion for reconsideration of De Lima’s May 12 acquittal. They argue that Ragos’ recantation did not spoil his original testimony against the former senator, and that there are other pieces of evidence that prove the case.
De Lima’s camp calls the motion as “a mere scrap of paper” since the court has decided with finality. They say that “nothing short of a Supreme Court decision re-opening the case can vest the judge with jurisdiction anew to alter a judgment of acquittal, which is final and executory immediately.”
JUNE 6, 2023
De Lima’s lawyer Boni Tacardon says that according to Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 256, the bail resolution on the remaining drug case against the former senator will be released “very very soon.”
A favorable decision on this petition means temporary freedom for De Lima after more than six years in detention.
JUNE 7, 2023
Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 256 denies De Lima’s bail petition, according to her lawyer Tacardon. This means that the remaining drug case against her will go through trial while she remains in detention.
JUNE 13, 2023
Joenel Sanchez, Ronnie Dayan, and Franklin Jesus Bucayu – all co-accused of De Lima in the remaining charge – ask Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 256 Judge Romeo Buenaventura to inhibit from the case.
Sanchez, in his motion, highlights that Buenaventura is the brother of lawyer Emmanuel Buenaventura “who assisted Accused Dayan in the execution of his affidavit, which was later, testified to by accused Dayan to be coerced.”
He also says that the judge’s sibling served as legal adviser to the late lawmaker Reynaldo Umali, former chair of the House committee on justice that conducted the congressional hearings against De Lima.
JUNE 16, 2023
Muntinlupa RTC Branch 256 Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura voluntarily inhibits from the case. He says the records of the case shall be transmitted to Muntinlupa City Executive Judge for re-raffle.
JUNE 30, 2023
The pending drug charge faced by De Lima is re-raffled to Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 204, and will be handled by Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara. This is the same court that acquitted De Lima in a separate case in May 2023.
De Lima’s remaining drug charge was previously handled by Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256, before its Presiding Judge Romeo Buenaventura inhibited himself following motions filed by the former senator’s co-accused.
JULY 5, 2023
DOJ prosecutors ask Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 204 Presiding Judge Abraham Joseph Alcantara to inhibit from the remaining drug charge of De Lima. In their motion, the prosecutors said they “cannot help but be apprehensive that the Honorable Presiding Judge will carry over his perceptions to the instant case.” Alcantara previously acquitted De Lima from a separate drug charge.
JULY 6, 2023
Alcantara voluntarily inhibits a day after DOJ prosecutors file their motion. The case will be re-raffled to another court.
JULY 10, 2023
De Lima’s pending drug charge is re-raffled to Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 206 under Presiding Judge Gener Gito.
Gito is the former presiding judge of Muntinlupa City RTC Branch 256, and was among the judges who allowed De Lima to visit her mother in 2019. The presiding judge also junked government prosecutors’ request to hold De Lima and Tacardon in contempt for lack of merit in 2022.
NOVEMBER 13, 2023
After nearly seven years in detention, Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court Branch 206 under Judge Gener Gito grants bail to former senator Leila de Lima. She is allowed to post bail of P300,000, along with each of her other co-accused – former Bureau of Corrections director Franklin Bucayu, former aides Ronnie Dayan and Joenel Sanchez, and alleged bagman Jose Adrian Dera.