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Palace condemns HRW's 'continued interference' in De Lima case

In this Nov. 2, 2017 file photo, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque holds his first press briefing with the Malacañang Press Corps. Facebook screengrab/Presidential Communications  
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang slammed New York-based Human Rights Watch on Wednesday for what it said was the watchdog's meddling in Philippine domestic affairs by calling for the release of Sen. Leila de Lima. 
 
"We condemn this continued interference not only because it misleads the public, but because it mocks the integrity of our justice system," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement Wednesday. 
 
Roque noted that the rights watchdog portrays de Lima as a "prisoner of conscience" and a "so-called martyr for justice", characterizations that he rejected.
 
"She is none of these; she is facing charges of criminal in nature, plain and simple. Her arrest, following a competent and independent court's finding of probable cause, strictly followed legal procedures," he said.
 
De Lima, ordered arrested in February 2017 on drug-related charges, but has yet to be arraigned on those charges due to procedural delays.
 
Her arraignment was postponed in December a few days after the prosecution filed a motion seeking to amend information on the charges filed against her for her alleged involvement in the New Bilibid Prison drug trade while she was Justice secretary.
 
Arraignment was again postponed in January after Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Judge Juanita Guerrero, who ordered De Lima arrested last year, inhibited from the case. 
 
"Let us allow the legal process to proceed accordingly," Roque said.
 
Roque also took a jab at HRW, saying it is desperate to get media mileage and public attention in the country by “beating a dead and decaying horse.”
 
"This is quite understandable considering that it is not getting any elsewhere in the world. In fact, it appears we're the only country that remains tolerant of their sad existence," Roque, who used to make dramatic statements while handling high-profile cases as a human rights lawyer, said. 
 
HRW Deputy Asia Director Phelim Kine on Wednesday called on the Philippine government to release de Lima. 
 
He made the statement 10 days before February 24, one year since authorities arrested and detained De Lima over drug charges.  The detained senator was accused of protecting and coddling drug traders inside the New Bilibid Prison during her stint as Justice secretary.
 
De Lima, who has repeatedly denied the charges, is facing three counts of violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.  She is currently detained at the police headquarters in Camp Crame.
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