By Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine police have arrested more than 80,000 people during President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, but few as prominent or defiant as Leila de Lima.
A Philippine senator and Duterte’s long-time foe, de Lima was arrested in February on drugs charges she says were trumped up as part of a presidential vendetta.
Held at police detention facility in Manila that she shares with murder suspects and mangy cats, the 57-year-old lawyer remains implacably critical of the anti-narcotics campaign and Duterte, who will complete his first year in office this week.
“The promise of eradicating drugs has defined his presidency,” she said. “It’s actually a sham because they are targeting the wrong people.”
Duterte’s drug war, she says, targets only small-time dealers and leaves drug lords untouched.
Called a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, de Lima believes the real reason she has been locked up is to stop her asking questions about the thousands of killings that critics say have stained Duterte’s presidency.
Police say they have shot dead 3,135 suspects in anti-drug operations. They have also identified drugs as the motive in another 2,000 killings, and are investigating a further 7,000 murders and homicides.
De Lima and other critics believe many victims were killed by undercover police or their paid vigilantes – a charge the police deny.
Last year de Lima chaired a Senate inquiry into the drug war, grilling senior police and a self-confessed hitman in televised hearings that transfixed the nation.
The inquiry looked into allegations that police were summarily executing drug suspects in a pattern similar to killings in Davao City where Duterte had been mayor for 22 years.
De Lima’s toxic rivalry with Duterte began in 2009 when, as chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), she started investigating a spate of vigilante-style killings in Davao City.
“It’s personal because of my history…